This intense thriller set in 1847 during colonial-era Ireland, follows a deserting Irish Ranger Martin Feeney (James Frecheville) as he hunts down the British authorities who he blames for the deaths of his family, who perished as a result of execution, or eviction from their home and starvation as a result of famine. On his trail is army veteran Hannah (Hugo Weaving), who served alongside Feeney in Afghanistan and whose commitment to his mission wavers as it progresses.
Director and scriptwriter Daly doesn’t shy away from showing the effects of the Great Famine and British colonialism on Ireland, using atmospheric shots of ravaged cottages and emaciated extras to fully convey the horrors of both. In addition, Daly’s inclusion of sequences showing Irish Catholics converting to Protestantism so that they can be fed and a judge demanding that an Irish defendant speak English further effectively emphasise the damaging impact of British colonialism, as well as British bigotry against the Irish.
Daly’s handling of the film’s action sequences is also impressive, emphasising the brutality of the combat without resorting to gratuitous violence or gore. Any particularly gory moments are justified by the revenge narrative that contextualises the violence, such as a particularly graphic beheading that occurs as part of Feeney’s quest to avenge the loss of his family.
The performances also add to the realism, with Australian actor Frecheville convincingly depicting Feeney’s anger at the suffering of his family and his desire for revenge; however, he is also able to effectively depict the character’s difficult relationship with his relatives, who have not forgiven him for joining the Army. Weaving also effectively conveys Hannah’s burnt-out cynicism from his first scene where he disposes of an Irish rebel he is interrogating, as well as his humanity when he comes face to face with Feeney. In addition, Barry Keoghan and Jim Broadbent provide notable performances as a private who tries to defend the Irish and a bigoted landlord respectively, Broadbent in particular adds a degree of eerie conviction to his character’s voiced opinion that the Irish in Ireland will go the way of ‘the Red Indian in Manhattan’.
All of the above makes Black ’47 an atmospheric revenge thriller that also serves as an attack on British colonialism. Films like these are sorely needed in this current political climate where the far-right are enjoying a political resurgence.