The Irish potato famine (1845-1852) destroyed the primary crop of the country at a time when Catholic Irish people were deprived of basic human rights. This agricultural crisis devastated the country, killing a million people and forcing another million to vacate for safer shores. Director Lance Daly plunges into this traumatic chapter of history with aplomb and grit.
Black 47 follows Feeney (James Frecheville), a deserter from the British army, who returns home to reunite with his family only to find they have perished in the aftermath of the crisis. To make matters worse, after deciding to set off to America with his lover and her family, they too are killed by the British constabulary and starvation. Fuelled by frustration, Feeney sets off to exact revenge on the greedy landowners and authorities who allowed this to happen. Grizzly war veteran Hannah (Hugo Weaving) and new recruit Pope (Freddie Fox) are dispatched to hunt him down and neutralise him.
Daly walks a tight line between authentic, historical piece and riveting action-Western as Black 47 depicts harrowing scenes of devastation married with taut, violent confrontations. The scenery is morose: grey fog veils derelict landscapes and communities on the edge of extinction, which act as grim, emotional backdrops. There are instances where the sub-par CGI and limited set design reveal the seams of budget restrictions but for the most part the film transcends its visual limitations.
Both Frecheville and Weaving play laconic, complicated warriors who have been traumatised by their time with the British army. The violence is not gratuitous, instead it is contextualised by moments that detail the conditions that allowed the famine to happen. The choice to use the Gaelic language to divide the characters between natives and invaders adds an important layer of authenticity to the grim proceedings. Black 47 has achieved an honest portrayal of a complex chapter of Irish history that is both intelligent and highly entertaining.
Black 47 does not have a UK release date yet.
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