Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Lance Daly|
|Music by||Brian Byrne|
|Distributed by||Element Pictures|
|Box office||$2 million|
Black '47 is a 2018 Irish period drama film directed by Lance Daly. The screenplay is by PJ Dillon, Pierce Ryan, Eugene O'Brien and Lance Daly, based on the Irish-language short film An Ranger, written and directed by Dillon and Ryan. The film stars Hugo Weaving, James Frecheville, Jim Broadbent, Stephen Rea, Freddie Fox, Barry Keoghan, Moe Dunford, and Sarah Greene. Set in Ireland during the Great Famine, the film follows an Irish Ranger who has been fighting for the British Army abroad, as he abandons his post to reunite with his family. The title is taken from the most devastating year of the famine, 1847, which is referred to as "Black '47".
Black '47 held its world premiere on 2 March 2018 at the Berlin Film Festival, before being released on 7 September 2018 in Ireland by Element Pictures. The film received positive reviews from critics, and was a box-office success in Ireland.
Hannah (Weaving) is a veteran of the British army who is working as an investigator for the Royal Irish Constabulary. While interrogating a member of the Young Irelander movement, Hannah loses his temper over the prisoner's refusal to name names and strangles him.
Martin Feeney (Frecheville) is a former Connaught Ranger, who is returning to Connemara, in the west of Ireland, in 1847. On his arrival home, the country is experiencing the worst year of the Great Famine. Feeney finds his mother has died of starvation and his brother has been hanged, having stabbed a bailiff during his family's eviction. Feeney stays with his brother's widow (Greene), who is squatting in one of the few houses still standing with her three children, and makes plans to emigrate to America and take his brother's family with him. Before they can leave, agents of the local Anglo-Irish landlord and members of the RIC arrive to remove them from the squat. During the eviction, the house is destroyed, Feeney is arrested and his nephew is killed. Feeney is brought for interrogation by the RIC but manages to kill his captors and destroy their barracks. He returns to the house to find his sister-in-law and her daughter have died of exposure after sleeping in the ruin.
The destruction of the barracks draws the attention of British authorities, who suspect Feeney is responsible. Feeney is revealed to be a deserter and Pope (Fox), an arrogant British officer, is assigned to apprehend him with the aid of Hannah, who served with Feeney in Afghanistan. Facing a death sentence for strangling the prisoner at the beginning of the film, Hannah is compelled to assist in the hunt. His feelings are complicated, as Feeney saved his life during the Afghan War. They are joined by Hobson (Keoghan), an idealistic young English private, and later hire Conneely (Rea), a knowledgeable local, to act as a translator from the Irish language. They track Feeney as he hunts down those he blames for the deaths of his family, including a local rent collector, the judge who sentenced his brother and a Protestant preacher who is offering soup to the starving on condition they convert.
Pope's group catch up with Feeney at the home of Cronin (McArdle), the land agent who oversaw his family's eviction, but he escapes after Hobson fails to shoot him when he has the chance. Figuring that his next target is the landlord himself, the group travels to the big house to warn him. Lord Kilmichael (Broadbent) is dismissive of Feeney. Putting a large bounty on his head and surrounding himself with armed police, led by the violent Sergeant Fitzgibbon (Dunford), Kilmichael vows to personally accompany his grain harvest to the railway station where it will be shipped abroad. Outraged by the sight of people starving outside the gates, Private Hobson uses his rifle to attempt to allow the starving people crowded outside the guarded gates to enter and take some grain. He is killed by Sergeant Fitzgibbon. Lord Kilmichael, accompanied by the armed police and the remainder of Pope's posse, arrives at their destination and stays in an inn. Feeney attacks in the night, but falls for a trap set by Pope who is sleeping in Kilmichael's bed. Feeney is able to escape again, however, when Hannah cannot bring himself to shoot him. As he flees, Feeney takes the Lord Kilmichael as a hostage.
The following morning, Hannah is brought out to the yard to be summarily executed by firing squad but is saved by an attack from Feeney. After the soldiers shoot him from his horse, they are stunned to find that they have instead killed Lord Kilmichael, who had been dressed in Feeney's clothes and mounted on his horse.
In the ensuing chaos, the starving people storm the yard and take the grain, a number of local bounty hunters turn against Kilmichael's men and Hannah is freed by Conneely. Fitzgibbon shoots Feeney, but is choked unconscious in a vicious brawl. Hannah steals a horse and attempts to get the wounded Feeney to safety, but Feeney is shot fatally by Pope and dies shortly after their escape. As he is dying, he laments the fate of his family and his country and implores Hannah not to continue the fight, but to go to America, as Feeney had once intended to do.
Seeking vengeance, Hannah follows the badly wounded Pope as he returns to Dublin but stops at a fork in the road where a group of people bound for America have gathered. Among them is Feeney's last remaining relative, his young niece. Pope rides down one path, as the emigrants start down the other. It is not shown which path Hannah takes.
- Hugo Weaving as Hannah
- James Frecheville as Feeney
- Jim Broadbent as Lord Kilmichael
- Stephen Rea as Conneely
- Freddie Fox as Pope
- Moe Dunford as Fitzgibbon
- Barry Keoghan as Hobson
- Sarah Greene as Ellie
- Andrew Bennett as Beartla
- Colm Seoighe as Swineherd
- Ronan O'Connor as Red McCormack
- Ciaran Grace as Ó Sé
- Dermot Crowley as Judge Bolton
- Sheila Moylette as The Registrar
- Aidan McArdle as Cronin
"Black '47" refers to the year 1847, when death and emigration resulting from starvation, plague and disease lead to the most dramatic population decrease in the entire period of the Great Famine in Ireland.
In an interview, Daly highlighted that no film on the Great Famine had been made for the big screen previously, despite its significance to Irish history, stating, "Given the singular importance of the Great Famine in Irish history, and that it has never been seen on our cinema screens before, our cast and crew felt a huge responsibility to make a film that was not only historically accurate and emotionally true..." Later, at the Berlin Film Festival press conference, he added that he was compelled to make a film about “the most important period of Irish history but it was difficult to find a way in, to address the horrors of that time, hard to do it justice”.
In preparation for the role, Frecheville, an Australian actor, had to learn the Irish language. In an interview, he discussed the challenges of playing Irish, stating "It’s hard to say where the challenge was because it was all challenging. It was all very cold. I’m not so good at learning languages so to pick up a language that not a great number of people speak was pretty tough, but apparently, I passed a few tests but I still have to see what the public thinks." Keoghan also prepared for his role, revealing he had limited his eating of solid foods and survived on glucose drinks to lose weight for the role.
Black '47 held its world premiere at the Berlin Film Festival;on 16 February 2018. On 9 May 2018, the film was presented at the Cannes Film Festival. On 21 February 2018, the film was screened at the Dublin International Film Festival. It was also screened at several festivals across Ireland, including the Dingle International Film Festival on 24 March 2018, the Belfast Film Festival on 12 April 2018, and the Galway Film Fleadh on 15 July 2018. The film premiered in North America at the Toronto International Film Festival on 6 September 2018. The film also had a screening at a special event at the Irish Film Institute as part of the art and film exhibition on the Famine in Ireland.
The film was released in Ireland on 7 September 2018 by Wildcard Distribution. It was released on 28 September 2018 in the United Kingdom by Altitude Film Distribution and StudioCanal UK and in the United States by IFC Films.
As of 28 September 2018, Black '47 has grossed over €1 million in Ireland. In its opening weekend in Ireland, the film grossed €444,000. It had the highest-grossing opening weekend for a film since the 2015 film Brooklyn. It also became the highest-grossing Irish film in Ireland.
Black '47 received positive reviews from critics with many praising its depiction of a difficult subject in the Irish Famine, along with its extensive use of the Irish language, gritty visual style, and the performances of Frecheville, Weaving and Rea.
On review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 78% based on 54 reviews, and an average rating of 6.75/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "Black '47 anchors its grim and gritty action in deceptively deep genre storytelling, although its epic ambitions arguably exceed its grasp."
Glenn Kenny of the New York Times described Black '47 as: "handsomely staged and shot, us[ing] the Irish famine of 1847 as the setting for a fast-paced, well acted and occasionally exhilarating tale of revenge." 
Peter Bradshaw in The Guardian gave the film 4 out of 5 stars, praising Frecheville's "coldly terrifying performance" as "a Ned Kelly figure of insurgent justice", and though the film is "a viscerally tough and uncompromisingly violent picture" it is also "a gripping piece of storytelling".
Niall O'Dowd called the film "essential viewing for Irish-Americans": "It is a must-see movie for those who value their heritage and history. In that dreadful genocide was the seed of the Irish nation that would spread worldwide."
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