Lance Daly’s newest film, Black 47, an adaptation of the 2008 Irish short film An Ranger, written and directed by P.J. Dillon and Pierce Ryan, who also co-wrote Black 47’s screenplay. The film centers around an Irishman named Feeney who just so happens to be a soldier for the British army. He was an officer in an elite group of British soldiers called the Connaught Rangers, a unit of footmen that were stationed in such countries that were occupied by or at war with England at the time, including India and Afghanistan. He deserted the army to return home only to find almost his entire family dead, and everyone he once knew was nearly starving to death or had emigrated to America.
1847 was the year of The Great Potato Famine in Ireland. Ireland had been under British rule since the 1500’s but the famine made everything considerably worse. The Church of England is out in the most devastated parts of the Irish countryside, including the town Feeney was from, offering soup to starving people, only if they renounce the Roman Catholic Church. Feeney’s mother refused to convert so she starved to death. Feeney’s brother was hanged by the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC). The RIC is taking people’s homes away. His former home is now a pigsty for his old landlord.
When he witnesses the RIC menacing the only remaining family he has left, his sister-in-law Ellie and her children and the aftermath of them removing the roof from her home, he sets out on a rampage of brutal revenge against the people he blames for the deaths of his family members. The British Army decides that something must be done about this rogue ranger, in the name of good ole British proprietary, decency, and greed.
“He deserted the army to return home only to find almost his entire family dead…”
A task force, if you will, is formed by Commander Pope (Freddie Fox playing the perfect stiff-upper-lipped villainous English gentleman). A former Connaught Ranger, Hannah (Hugo Weaving in a quietly commanding performance) is awaiting his execution until Pope summons him. After leaving the army, Hannah became a deputy with the RIC who was the go-to guy if someone needed to be persuaded to talk. One particular prisoner awoke his ire for mocking his English heritage and he definitely strangled the guy to death, hence being on death row.
Commander Pope tells Hannah in his office that the only way he won’t be executed is if he joins Pope’s group on a mission to capture Feeney. Coincidentally, Hannah knows Feeney, and one time Feeney saved his life in Afghanistan. Hannah goes along hesitantly in the name of self-preservation. Accompanying Pope and Hannah is an ambitious young Private named Hobson, who is essentially Pope’s bagman and is probably way too young and inexperienced to be going on such a mission.
As Feeney continues to evade capture, he is kicking a*s and taking names all over the Irish countryside, and when I say kicking a*s, I actually mean murdering people. He’s like a hyper-amalgamation of Toshiro Mifune, John Wayne, and Jamie Foxx (in Django Unchained, specifically) who appears to be unstoppable.
“…an excellent job of bringing back the bleakness of Ireland during the potato famine.”
Pope’s crew keeps being one step behind Feeney and his path of vengeance-fuelled destruction. They meet up with a local at a pub along the way named Conneely (Stephen Rae as the wonderful comic relief in an otherwise bleak story), who swindles his way into becoming Pope’s Irish translator. This band of misfits keeps on the path to find Feeney, and when they do, it’s quite a sight to behold. The ending left me in total suspense, but I won’t tell you what happened because you need to see it for yourself.
The cast in this film is incredible. Hugo Weaving transforms from a reprehensible villain to a heroic champion with grand ease. James Frecheville’s seething intensity and mastery of physical acting is a sight to behold. Stephen Rea is always fantastic but I particularly enjoy him as the one spot of brightness in a somewhat dead serious movie. I also can’t forget Jim Broadbent’s impeccable performance as big British baddie, Lord Kilmichael that will make you squirm with his extremely believable performance as a xenophobic classist scumbag.
Lance Daly and his crew did an excellent job of bringing back the bleakness of Ireland during the potato famine. None of us could have possibly been alive at the time anymore, but I have to believe that the desperation and death that are wordlessly communicated to us are as close to really being there as we can get in 2018. It’s a great film and I hope you all go to see it!
Black ’47 (2018) Written and directed by Lance Daly. Starring Hugo Weaving, James Frecheville, Stephen Rea, Freddie Fox, Barry Keoghan, Sarah Green.
9 out of 10