The Wind That Shakes the Barley dir. by

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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*

IMDb | Open Democray | Confessions of a Film Critic | Entertainment.ie | Indepedent interview with Old IRA member

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9 Responses

  1. Mal says:

    I thought this was absolutely brilliant. Not quite as good as Michael Collins all round– and I think it's fair to compare them– but better in some ways, more of an "ideas" film with some very meaty dialogue. I expected a piece of Marxist, English self-hating propaganda and was surprised by a thoughtful, balanced film that never simplified the situation and never lost sight of the human drama behind the causes and the history. I can't understand the mediocre reviews it received. I saw it this morning and will go again tomorrow morning.

  2. Mal says:

    And yes, the Black and Tans were scum, I don't see how portraying them as such is being biased.

  3. Fence says:

    I prefered this to Michael Collins, which I did enjoy.

  4. Mal says:

    I think that's a fair preference, although I think visually and dramatically and cinematically, in terms of pacing and style and dialogue, MC is the better film. Also it has an incredibly vivid sense of history being made, of epic grandeur. But it is a piece of hagiography, where The Wind That Shakes the Barely is much more sober and realistic.

  5. Fence says:

    I thought that Michael Collins was more for an international market, and made in such a way that it gave explanations and offered a wider view. And what made TWTSTB so interesting was that it didn't. It was a very enclosed world view and didn't try to offer and explanation.

    MC was a good film, but I wouldn't rate it as a great one. Course I haven't seen it in ages, so maybe it has just faded from my memory.

    I see today that Cosmo in the Times gives TWTSTB his blessing by saying he didn't like it ;)

  6. Mal says:

    I did like that, the narrowness of focus. Although I reckon it wouldn't be too hard to work out what was going on, even if you knew nothing about Irish history.

  7. Fence says:

    Well you'd have an idea, but you'd certainly have to investigate who won the Civil War :)

    Plus the fact that you only really got to find out Damian's pov, and it seemed tha most of the IRA members felt the same way, whereas in fact it was a minority.

  8. NineMoons says:

    Oh GOOD. I would love to know what Cosmo hated about it. Probably everything.

  9. Fence says:

    Basically he thought that the historical part was prolly qute true, but the drama and storyline was crap. And that no one ever loves Loach's stuff cause they are more about message than anything else.