Dir. Ken Loach, 2006, Ireland/UK/Ger/Italy/Spain, 124 mins
Cast: Cillian Murphy, Padraic Delaney, Liam Cunningham, Orla Fitzgerald
Review by Hemanth Kissoon
Damian: “It is quite easy to know what you are against, quite another to know what you are for.”
That statement reverberates around this harrowing look at the violent birth of modern Ireland. Like Gandhi, Dances with Wolves and The Proposition, The Wind that Shakes the Barley is an ambitious look at injustice, national/cultural self-determination and their repercussions.
Fresh from its recent Palme D’Or win, The Wind that Shakes the Barley is a more grandiose affair than Loach’s previous feature film stint behind the camera. Ae Fond Kiss… was an intimate, believable and moving modern day Romeo and Juliet tale, set among the Muslims and Catholics of post-9/11 Scotland. Here, Loach and his producing (Rebecca O’Brien) and writing (Paul Laverty) team reunite to paint with broader, but no less engaging, brush strokes.
1920s Ireland is seen through the eyes of Murphy’s Damian – a Michael Corleone morality tale figure who descends from idealistic humanitarian to freedom fighter/terrorist. Intending to head to a prestigious medical post in London, his plans are waylaid after witnessing one atrocity too far by the British army in an Ireland under the flag of the British Empire. Rather than from the perspectives of the leaders, the audience is shown imperialist injustice, intolerance and brutality at the ground level. From that starting point, the film progresses through the guerilla tactics used to force the British government to sue for a peace settlement and the subsequent violent birthing-pains of a newly “free” country.
Handsomely shot - but opting for attempted reality over artful composition - and well-acted, there is much to digest in this bold movie. It certainly is controversial and tackles complex subject matter head-on with the cast articulating the conflicting ideas. It is especially topical with the current precarious power-sharing problems in Northern Ireland and the recent re-release of The Rocky Road to Dublin – the Peter Lennon documentary, initially suppressed on its release in 1968, looking at the wake of independence from Britain. The Wind that Shakes the Barley could easily also be interpreted as an allegory of the way America has been acting since the Second World War, especially in Iraq.
“Even if we remove the soldiers, we will still be ruled by landowners, corporations and capitalism.”
The film has many targets that it clearly disapproves of: the sadism and greed of the occupation, the lack of compassion during war, the wealthy acting above the law, post-revolution government, corruption of the ideal, etc.
The film unfortunately lacks clarity and context in places. It is not an easy watch, but is a relevant talking point. For those who think Loach is just prone to kitchen sink dramas, they should not dismiss his latest offering. This is a powerful introduction to the tragedy of occupation – imperialism at its most intimate, cruel and oppressive.
Discuss this film here