Shining the spotlight upon a part of history not oft depicted on film up till now, Black 47 centres its story in and around the Great Famine of Ireland in the mid-19th century. Using this grim backdrop as a precursor to the central plot, the film goes to great lengths to explore the history of the famine and its effects on Ireland, whilst also teasing out an involving story with complex characters at its heart.
Returning home from fighting alongside the English, Feeney, an Irish Ranger (played by James Frecheville) discovers how great a toll the terrible famine has truly had, with corrupt landlords turfing his sister and her children out of their house, whilst his mother and brother are both dead, either starved or hanged. As further tragedy rears itself, Feeney finds himself both a fugitive from the law and on a path of cold-hearted revenge, pursued by both the English authorities and his former Army comrade, Hannah (Hugo Weaving).
A perfectly paced revenge thriller, the film plays out like a Western, both in its use of well-established genre motifs and the desolate, uninviting landscapes within which the flawed anti-heroes are cast. Director Lance Daly captures this cold, grim locale well, using stunning cinematography and set design to sell the bleak hopelessness that pervades throughout the narrative. Wear a jumper to the cinema – you’ll certainly feel cold whilst watching.
The performances are terrific too – Frecheville casts a silent, imposing shadow across proceedings, delivering the emotional punches with minimal effort. A sullen look here and there is often all one witnesses from the actor, but it’s enough to deliver the appropriate response from the audience.
It’s the antagonists of the film that truly carry the film though, with Frecheville’s character spending a great deal of screen time in the shadows or off screen altogether. Hugo Weaving delivers a powerful turn as the conflicted Hannah, providing many of the film’s more heart-pounding moments, and eliciting audience sympathies despite his gunning for the main protagonist. Elsewhere, Freddie Fox is gloriously slimy as the arrogant British officer Pope, and Jim Broadbent gives a fine turn as nasty Lord Kilmichael – a rotten over-privileged, unfeeling bastard if ever there was one.
A fine revenge thriller with plenty of grim gusto, Black 47 is perfectly paced and full of both interesting characters and pulse-pounding action set pieces. However, it’s historical setting and its depiction of a bleak time from Irish history elevates it beyond just simple shootouts, delivering an engrossing and oft-enlightening watch that entertains and informs in equal measure.
Cast: James Frecheville, Hugo Weaving, Stephen Rea, Freddie Fox, Barry Keoghan, Jim Broadbent, Sarah Greene, Moe Dunford, Ciaran Grace Director: Lance Daly Writers: Lance Daly, P.J Dillon and Pierce Ryan Certificate: 15 Duration: 100 mins Released by: Altitude Film Distribution