The Wind That Shakes The Barley

The Wind That Shakes The Barley


Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

The last time Ken Loach came to Ireland in 1990, he went north with Hidden Agenda, which caused a storm of protest and accusations of anti-English bias. The Wind That Shakes The Barley will have a similar affect. Is this a glorification of terrorism, or a thinly veiled attack on occupying forces everywhere, especially in Iraq?

You could talk your way round the houses and still come up with very good reasons for believing that when Loach goes political, he makes Karl Marx look benign. By overstating his case, he is in danger of losing the argument, if, indeed, this is a debate and not simply the story of country boys who decide to stand up against the brutality of their oppressors and, almost by chance, write a footnote in history.

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The problem with the film, which is wonderfully photographed and beautifully acted, is that the enemy has no redeeming features whatsoever. The Anglo Irish landowners are bigoted bullies and the soldiers vicious sadists - note to scriptwriter Paul Laverty: would a British sergeant use the phrase, "Shut the fuck up," in 1920?

Damien (Cillian Murphy) is a young doctor, fresh out of med school. When saying goodbye to his friends and family in their croft cottage, a unit of the Black & Tans attacks, as it is against the law for men to gather in groups of more than three. During this raid, the women are roughed up and a teenage boy murdered for refusing to say his name in English.

At first uncertain that force can possibly succeed against a well equipped army, Damien joins the budding ranks of the IRA, in those days true freedom fighters in tweeds and walking shoes. They learn fast that the quality of mercy has no place on Irish soil.

London's attempt to divide and rule, once guerrilla tactics have proved only too effective, is a clever ruse to offer peace and yet retain dominion. Almost alone amongst his friends, Damien, who has executed men with his own pistol and witnessed the Catholic church "yet again side with the rich," fights on for genuine independence.

Laverty and Loach are not attempting to emulate Neil Jordan's Michael Collins and paint the politics of the Troubles in broad, bloody strokes. This is a small, rural film and all the better for it. Whether you keep up with the machinations of power and revolution matters less than staying close with those you have come to know and respect.

Damien says, "If they bring their savagery over here..."

You don't need to finish the sentence. The message is clear. How the people respond to occupation shapes the future of a nation as certainly as torture incites violence.

Reviewed on: 24 Jun 2006
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The budding years of the IRA as country boys oppose the brutal suppression of the Black & Tans
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Director: Ken Loach

Writer: Paul Laverty

Starring: Cillian Murphy, Padraic Delaney, Liam Cunningham, Gerard Kearney, William Ruane, Orla Fitzgerald, Siobhan McSweeney, Roger Allam, Frank Bourke

Year: 2006

Runtime: 127 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: Germany / Italy / Spain / France / Ireland / UK

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