Opening with a hurling scene in Cork in the 1920’s this film lives entirely within the experience of the main character, Damien. A young doctor about to leave Ireland for a career in London he is pulled into the Irish War of Independence. And this film is about his fight. The film starts without any introductory text, there is no attempt made to make the viewer aware of the wider world, this is Damien’s story and only his story.
And this is what makes this such a good film, although if an audience is unfamilar with Irish history it might also be a problem.
By focusing entirely on this micro-history Loach allows us into the lives of these IRA men, and the people of the area, and how they are impacted on by the British soldiers.
And of course this is where all the controversy over this film begin. When The Wind That Shakes the Bareley won at Cannes there was an immediate outcry in the British media about it being anti-British and pro-IRA. Well, it isn’t. Yes the Black & Tans are showing abusing the Irish, there are random killings and attacks. But is it anti-British to show actual historical events? It is a well documented fact that the Black & Tans and the Auxillaries were not shining examples of the “noble soldier”. Fact, not made-up pro-IRA propaganda.
Which brings us to the IRA, and of course, as Damien is the hero of the film and IRA member this organisation comes across better than the British army. But the IRA of the 1920’s was a very different beast from the modern IRA, or PIRA, or RIRA, or any of the other varieties. Let’s not forget that they had a political mandate from the 1918 general election.
As a film I found The Wind That Shakes The Barley to be very entertaining, engaging and powerful. All the actors did a great job, especially the young boy who turns up with the “important message” only to have lost the scrap of paper :) Seriously though, I thought all the actors did great jobs. Cillian Murphy played his role wonderfully well, and needed to, as he was in virtually every single scene. But Padraic Delaney did an expecially good job of playing Teddy, Damian’s older brother.
There is plenty more I could say about this film, there are political speeches that come across as totally naturalistic, there are scenes of how traumatic violence is, not only to the victims but also to the perpatraters, but to say much more would be to risk spoilers. it isn’t perfect, but then again, what is. Go, watch the film.
*Use the spoiler tag if need be in the comments section*