Black 47 2018 Movie Scene James Frecheville as Feeney on a horse and holding a rifle

Black ’47 [2018]

I went in Black ’47 expecting it to be a difficult drama about the infamous Potato Famine. I understand that upon seeing the trailer many went into it expecting it to be an action-packed western. What the movie turned out to be is an all-consuming and slow-burning revenge thriller. It’s set against the backdrop of arguably the worst period of time for Ireland. Something that becomes quite apparent when you see a human skull slowly sinking into mud and oblivion. We follow Martin Feeney who returns to his home village only to found it completely devastated and not only by natural causes. 

I wouldn’t call Black ’47 a western because the famine plays such an overwhelming role in the movie. On the other hand, you can feel that western, bare-bones structure protruding from the plot. Let’s just call it a modern western and be done with it. I knew that the famine was bad, but once you see its bleakness and desolation, it’s truly a haunting experience. Fully knowing that what happened, in reality, is much, much worse. One million people died and one million fled the country during a seven-year period. We pick up the story during the worst, third year of the famine commonly known as the Black ’47 (1847).

As you might have expected, the visuals are simply stunning. The lack of food gave those imposing landscapes a whole new meaning. As I kept looking at them, admiring their beauty, I noticed that there aren’t any sources of nourishment there. There are no forests, bushes, or animals. Just vast and ancient greenness blended with rocks eating up everything as it did for millennia. The costumes, houses, and basically everything else when it comes to visuals was simply top-notch. You will be transported more than 150 years in the past and get a feel for that period of time in Irish history. The running time is just 90 minutes, prompting you to check out this movie even if you’re not a fan of the genre.

Martin Feeney, a former soldier for the British crown is finally returning home to Connemara, Ireland. What he finds is a living hell on Earth. Starvation, fever, and extreme poverty have decimated the Irish. On top of all this, the landlords are imposing new laws on their dying tenants. At the same time, Hannah, a member of the Royal Irish Constabulary is interrogating a member of the Young Ireland movement. Disillusioned, nihilistic, and alcoholic, Hannah is barely there. Fate puts these two men on a collision course.

One of many things that blew me away in Black ’47 was the script. Large parts of it are in Gaelic, only adding to a sense of authenticity. The dialogues are compelling and realistic, but the writers also knew when the words are not needed. When you need just to leave the scene hanging, increasing the suspense and a sense of impending doom. Just fucking brilliant. The characters are not overly developed, they serve as vessels to tell a larger narrative. The question is how do you frame a story about such a tragic event in the most efficient way? I think that the crew behind this movie managed to do so and more.

As is the case with most masterpieces, every aspect of this movie is great and the cast is no exception. James Frecheville was a force of nature, an avenging fury needed to balance the immeasurable suffering. A veteran of many battles, Hugo Weaving and naturally smirky Freddie Fox were also phenomenal. And as if we needed even more stellar performances, here are Stephen Rea and Jim Broadbent to add even more quality to the acting department. The conversations between the two of them were captivating, emphasizing the quality of the script. You will learn more about not just the relationship between Ireland and England but also about the Irish people. And why there so many of them in the US.

You might look at all the horrible events taking place in Black ’47 and think how bleak was our past. However, the very same type of shit is happening as you’re reading these lines. The evictions are just as devastating and tragic as they were some 150 years ago. You can read up on the reasons for evictions during the Great Famine in this Wikipedia article. The rich have also taken all the resources and left the masses to slowly die. This time you won’t die from not eating but from eating too much.

From drinking too much, smoking too much, doing drugs too much, or any other coping mechanism you stumble upon. You feel you need to do something to alleviate your fucked up and desperate position. And what the wealthiest people are doing, they are fucking space racing! The mental health issue has been created to shift the blame from society to the individual. And who’s representing the society? The rich and the powerful and their servants, just as they did before. Nothing has fucking changed.

They’re hoarding resources and shipping the grain to their palaces, unwilling to help the society which they used to become rich. Although most of them are members of a long line of rich assholes. I better calm down before I start writing a fecking novel here and bore you to death. Just wanted to give you something to think about as you’re watching this movie. Try to notice similarities between then and now and see how you feel. Think about what caused all this suffering how it can be resolved. To quote Zizek, don’t act, just think. And if you want to follow that up with act it would be nice.

Finally, if you’re looking for similar movies, I recommend another revenge masterpiece The Nightingale. This time, the British are fucking up stuff in Australia. Ahh, the sordid history of imperialism and colonialism is truly awful. You also might check out more gritty modern westerns with The Salvation and The Proposition along with Bone Tomahawk.

Director: Lance Daly

Writers: Lance Daly, P.J. Dillon, Eugene O’Brien, Pierce Ryan

Cast: James Frecheville, Hugo Weaving, Freddie Fox, Stephen Rea, Barry Keoghan, Moe Dunford, Jim Broadbent

Fun Facts: The knife used by Martin Feeney is a kukri/khukuri.


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