Black ’47: Revenge western in an Irish landscape
28 September, 2018 — By By Dan Carrier
British army deserter Feeney sets about a murderous rampage when he returns home to an Ireland ravaged by the Great Famine
Directed by Lance Daly
James Frecheville (Feeney) and Hugo Weaving (Hannah) in Black ’47
In the 1976 film The Outlaw Josey Wales, Clint Eastwood stars as a Missouri farmer who seeks revenge on those who have murdered his family while being hunted down by a mixture of victorious Union troops and bounty hunters.
There are elements of this classic in Black ’47, a western in all but name, but transported back across the Atlantic to Ireland, and taking place against the backdrop of the Great Famine. Instead of Union/Confederate soldiers, we have British colonial troops, intent on hunting down a fugitive.
The hero is Feeney (James Frecheville), an Irishman who has deserted the English army. We learn he has seen service in Afghanistan, and when he returns to his country, he finds villages razed to the ground, his countrymen starving. His mother has died, his brother hanged, and he watches as his nephew is gunned down.
Mounting his horse, armed with a musket and a knife, he seeks to work his way through as many elements of British rule as he can: soldiers, land agents, and then finally Lord Carmichael (Jim Broadbent).
The man charged with halting this murderous rampage is the sadistic Hannah (Hugo Weaving), army captain Pope (Freddie Fox) and helped by Irish tracker Conneely (the superb Stephen Rea).
Rea offers an enthralling turn as the mendacious quisling, working for the invaders to save his own skin, but also offering some sage advice and scoring underhand political points on behalf of his countrymen.
This is bleak stuff. Ireland’s landscape offers something as challenging as the plains of Arizona, desert heat replaced by drizzle. It is as bleak as the heathland the action stomps over.
But as a sucker for anything that draws on the western genre, this film earns more stars from me than someone who might not give two hoots about men armed with rifles wandering about the countryside with some kind of all-consuming mission to complete.
If you’re not in this camp, you might find this all a bit meh.