The Wind That Shakes The Barley - Review
Review by Jack Foley
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.
Running time: 124 minutes