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The Wind That Shakes The Barley - Review

The Wind That Shakes The Barley

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 3 out of 5

IT MAY have won the coveted Palme d’Or at Cannes (the festival’s top prize) but Ken Loach’s controversial new film isn’t the all-conquering triumph that such an accolade suggests.

Set in Ireland in 1920, the film follows young medical student, Damien (Cillian Murphy), as he reluctantly joins the IRA to help in their guerrilla warfare against the British occupying forces.

Their tactics eventually bring about the signing of the Anglo-Irish agreement and look to have provided a solution to ‘The Troubles’.

But the agreement merely succeeds in dividing the Republicans into those who hope the peace will work and those who feel betrayed at Ireland’s continued lack of independence.

Hence, men who were once brothers in arms find themselves becoming bitter enemies and the bloodshed continues internally.

Loach’s film inserts a group of fictional characters into a historical backdrop and proceeds to examine both the cause and effect of the violence that inevitably results when one country occupies another against its will.

In some respects, it contains many parallels to current events, given the nature of the guerrilla warfare that continues to dominate the headlines from Iraq.

But as well-made and brilliantly acted as The Wind That Shakes The Barley is, it’s very much a flawed experience that suffers from the same problems/criticisms that have plagued many past Loach movies.

The most notable of these is the director’s lamentable depiction of the Brits as thugs, torturers and murderers. If film’s such as Roland Emmerich’s The Patriot were heavily criticised for their one-dimensional portrayal of British tyrants, then Loach’s latest is equally as bad no matter how noble its intentions.

The film feels aggressively pro-IRA especially during its first half, beginning with a scene involving young Irish men enjoying a game of hurling, only to be humiliated, punished and (in one man’s case) killed by a passing British patrol for doing so.

It is only once the agreement has been signed and the Republicans begin to bicker among themselves that the film really succeeds in exposing the folly of war and politics. It’s then that Murphy’s Damien is pitted against his own brother, Teddy (Padraic Delaney), in a disagreement that can only end in tragedy.

Performance-wise, the film cannot be faulted. It is passionately acted by a noteworthy cast (that further includes Liam Cunningham and Gerard Kearney) who eventually help to provide viewers with a series of complex moral and ethical dilemmas.

But as with any Ken Loach film, it’s unrelentingly bleak and extremely heavy-handed, seldom letting up for the duration of its two hour-plus running time.

The result is a powerful human drama that’s frequently undone by its inability to remain impartial. Viewers are therefore advised to approach with this in mind.

Certificate: 15
Running time: 124 minutes

  1. If you actually bothered to examine the activities of the ‘Black & Tans’ in Ireland you would realise their portrayal as nothing other than thugs was impossible in this film. If Loach is impartial, every evidence from atrocities committed supports this view of the ‘Black & Tans’ & ‘Auxiliaries’ whatever about the general British Army. I say this making a very direct comparison between an independence movement supported by the general population in the 1920s and the recent/current-IRA who promote a misguided cause without popular support.

    john murray    Jun 25    #
  2. the truth hurts is in my opinion why this film has been slated by british critics. you cannot deny your colonial past, infact many of you know nothing about it. The black and tans were hired ex-soldiers who had just returned from a brutal war and were given a new enemy. examine past atrocities carried out by this group and then form an opinion. i do not see why people do not want this story to be told

    leanne    Jul 2    #
  3. It baffles me as to why British critics seem to constantly site an ‘aggressively pro-IRA’ stance as a major flaw in this film. No one is trying to suggest that what the IRA has become should be glorified. However the situation that existed in Ireland a hundred years a go or so was one of exploitation and subjectation that provoked an extreme response on the part of a number of Irish people which ultimately helped to establish what is now known as the Republic of Ireland. Any criticism of Loach’s depiction of Irish resistance can be similarly attributed to the Scottish in Braveheart. Furthermore, we have had countless movies portraying the Empire in a very glorified vain ( Zulu springs to mind) with seemingly no time to pause to consider the enormous moral questions that invariably come with empire.

    It is an important period in both British and Irish history and the facts should be known. Loach’s film bravely highlights a story that is too often ignored.

    Stephen Brazil    Jul 3    #
  4. It amazes me that so few reviewers (in fact none that I’ve seen) have commented upon the obvious idea that underpins the movie—socialist ideals betrayed.
    It is a pretty obvious and central metaphor—Damien is so loyal to his brother Teddy that he is willing to take his place to be tortured by the British. But his socialism—developed in the film via his relationship with Dan, the train driver and trade unionist—is ultimately stronger and they grow apart when Teddy sides with the local businessman (and arms funder) and, of course, over the partition treaty, which ultimately leads Teddy to kill Damien. It is what Loach is about—and while the brutality of the colonial British occupation forces is undoubted by even a casual reader of history, the defensive focus on this has obscured this more central intellectual point of the film. The anti-treatyists of course morphed into the right wing populist Fianna Fail, but that is another point.

    Ray Robinson    Jul 13    #