The Wind That Shakes the Barley (15)

Directed by Ken Loach, Written by Paul Laverty
Screening at FACT from 23rd June - 6th July 2006

Reviewed by Adam Ford

Since winning the Palme D’Or at this year's Cannes festival, Ken Loach’s latest effort has roused almost as many haters as the 2004 winner - Fahrenheit 9/11. The gutter press has tried to drown this film in a sea of inky sewage, with The Sun labelling it 'brutally anti-British.' For all their bullshit, the Murdochs of this world are anything but stupid, and are aware that the stakes couldn't be much higher, because The Wind That Shakes the Barley brilliantly illustrates George Orwell’s claim that 'during times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act'. Loach shows a fictionalised ‘reality’ of Britain’s horrific occupation of Ireland, inviting us to hold Bush and Blair’s occupations up to the same light.

Ireland, 1920. Young Damien O’Donovan (Cillian Murphy) seems set on leaving for London and becoming a doctor, until the dreaded Black and Tan soldiers attack his group of hurlers, killing Micheail (Laurence Barry) for not speaking English. Damien eventually decides to join the Irish Republican Army, and try to get the occupiers out of his country. Alongside his brother Teddy (Padraic Delaney) and a nation of supporters, they go to war against the might of the British Empire. Eventually a truce is signed and people are jubilant, but many soon come to believe that their leaders have sold them out for a uniform and a slice of Ireland pie. Damien takes the war to his former comrades, remembering James Connolly’s prediction that "If you remove the English army tomorrow and hoist the green flag over Dublin Castle, unless you set about the organization of the Socialist Republic your efforts would be in vain.”

Emerging star Cillian Murphy is perfect as Damien, conveying both a deep compassion for his kind and a seething hatred of those who hurt them. In her few moments on screen, Orla Fitzgerald brings subtlety to her performance as his girlfriend Sinead. Liam Cunningham is also superb as a William Blake quoting rebel of rebels. The cinematography is wonderful, mostly because Barry Ackroyd adds so little. There is no electric lighting, and we can thank nature for the beautifully bleak greens and browns of the landscape.

Like in so many of his films, writer Paul Laverty’s genius is showing how ordinary people deal with conflict and change, and how people are cogs in a bigger reality. One key scene sees Teddy siding with a local landowner against an elderly woman who owes him a lot of money. His reasoning is that it's the landowners who pay for the guns, not the poor people. Though some might see that as pragmatic, it could also be seen as a warning that the war was being fought on behalf of landowners and not the working class who were dying in its name. Laverty presents all arguments, steps back, and lets the viewer make up their own mind. To me, it seems like Sinn Fein/IRA’s gradual slide towards ‘legitimate’ right wing politics has its roots in real life scenes such as these.

Ken Loach is very open about how he is comparing the war in Ireland to today’s ‘war on terror’. In one interview, he told how the British sent the troops into Ireland, who 'brutalised the population, and then the resistance was born'. In Iraq, things are similar: 'They destroy people’s houses, engage in acts of brutality and generally oppress the people'.

Leaders can’t really be surprised when people fight back, since this lesson has been repeated enough times throughout history. But they spout their hypocrisy anyway, because some people still listen to them. My advice is to watch this film before you next grant an audience to Bush, Blair and all the other weapons of mass destruction.

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