Review: The Wind That Shakes the Barley (2006)

The Wind That Shakes the Barley (2006)

Directed by: Ken Loach | 124 minutes | drama, war, history | Actors: Cillian Murphy, Pádraic Delaney, Liam Cunningham, Gerard Kearney, William Ruane, Roger Allam, Frank Bourke, Fergus Burke, Antony Byrne, Denis Conway, John Crean, Máirtin de Cógáin, Orla Fitzgerald, Myles Horgan, Damien Kearney, Niall McCarthy Seamus Moynihan, Shane Nott, Aidan OHare, Siobhan Mc Sweeney, Marie Riordan, Mary Murphy, Laurence Barry, Martin Lucey, Shane Casey, Keith Dunphy, Kieran Hegarty, Kevin O’Brien, Gary McCarthy, Tim O’Mahon, Graham Browne Owen Buckley, Aidan Fitzpatrick, Vince Hannington, Denis Keleher, Colin McClery, Finbar O’Mahon, John Quinlan, Peggy Lynch, Noel O’Donovan, Peter O’Mahoney, Barry Bourke, Frank O’Sullivan, Diarmuid Ó’Dálaigh, Corina Gough, Roger Allam, Sabrina Barry, Dan O’Riordan, Peg Crowley, Fiona Lawton, Kieran Aherne, Clare Dineen, Sean McGinley, Tomas OhEalaithe, Nora Lynch, Diarmuid Ní Mheachair, Barry Looney, Connie O’Connail, Aine O’ Connor, Francis O’Connor, Peadr O’Riada, Neil Brand

Ken Loach won the Golden Palm at the Cannes Film Festival 2006 with his new film ‘The Wind That Shakes the Barley’. This award has caused quite a stir. The price was completely unexpected. Angry tongues claim that it is not so much about the merits of this film, but that it is more a kind of “lifetime achievement award”. Judge for yourself when you see this film.

‘The Wind That Shakes the Barley’ is a film about the struggle for Irish independence. Loach has previously made a similar film ‘Land and Freedom’, which deals with the Spanish Civil War.
Ken Loach does not make it easy for his English compatriots. The British Empire was still in its full glory at the time the film was set and, as with all his films, he takes a clear political stance. The English regime is portrayed as brutal and violent oppressors and occupiers. With this film, Loach wanted to account for the way in which the English oppressed the Irish and exploited the country. Through this film you will gain a clear insight into the past and present of the Irish nation. The film is set in the beautiful, misty and magnificently green and empty landscapes of County Cork. The images are overwhelmingly “Irish” in appearance. The Irish accent is initially difficult to follow, the subtitles are then necessary.

The story begins in 1920 – two years after the Irish Nationalist party Sinn Fein gained a large majority in the Irish parliament. That was a sham victory because the British government simply sent more troops to continue to impose its power. In this film the war or freedom struggle is shown as it almost always takes place. Atrocities on both sides, people who sometimes get involved against their will in fighting the occupying power. It is fighting with all means and the end justifies everything.
The film begins with the British “Black and Tans” troops who were extremely violent to the point of barbarism. They raid a farm. They owe that name to the color of their uniform. Loach is accused of painting the English occupiers very black in the film. Loach counters that this represents the truth and that there is no point in masking the past. The British have brought the resistance upon themselves.

Damien (Cillian Murphy), one of the protagonists, is a recent medical graduate. He is about to leave for England to work as a doctor. On the point of departure, he is confronted by brutal atrocities by the English. He then decides to join the local IRA “resistance group”. The film shows very well how the residents supported the resistance on a local scale, despite the revenge measures that the English constantly took. Ordinary people with everyday wishes turn under pressure into ruthless resistance fighters. The guerrillas were supported on all fronts. Women participated fully by delivering groceries and sometimes weapons. Remote farms were shelters where food was provided. It is interesting to see how the unions also participated in the resistance against the English, for example, drivers were not allowed/wanted to transport English soldiers. Another protagonist, Dan, appears in the story much more motivated from political considerations. This creates a clever and believable mixture of the considerations people have in going into battle. Violence is part of the film, but at the same time Loach penetratingly shows how ordinary people struggle with its consequences. This is dramatically worked out by the betrayal that a seventeen-year-old boy commits and as a result of which an order is issued to execute him. The moral dilemma then is how to deal with a seventeen-year-old villager whom you have known intimately from your early childhood. Even the local traitor doesn’t want to be buried next to the English Landlord, who also has to be executed as a snitch. What the film makes clear is that the resistance was done by very ordinary farm workers, poorly armed and often even worse organised. An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, both sides had no mercy. In the end, the protracted resistance brought the English to the negotiating table. The film takes another fascinating turn that is historically justified. How to deal with the negotiated result that comes on the table? Where the Irish were first united as one man against the English, it beautifully shows how a new war arose within families between those who rejected the negotiation result as too small and those who thought that this was the maximum achievable. A separation of minds and powers, the war begins again, but now it’s Irish against Irish.

In the last part of the film, this takes on a dramatic interpretation. The camps fight each other and in the film it becomes a literal fratricidal battle. The denouement that follows introduces you to a great moral dilemma that makes you think for a long time about how the English managed to leave the country so divided even after they left. Suddenly the film is much less political and the human drama is all-consuming. Apart from the sometimes somewhat bold English brutal arrogance, this is a film that excellently depicts the ideals of the Irish freedom fighters, but which also shows in an eminent way how people be ethically crushed by political positions. This time not a film about IRA bomb carpets, but the freedom struggle of the little man with his great ideals (and failures). Strong acting, great camera work. A convincing film and highly recommended!

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