Review of Ken Loach’s “The Wind that shakes the Barley”

Propaghanda? What Irish propaghanda?DRAMA
Dir: Ken Loach
Runtime: 127 min
Classification: 15
Country: Germany / Italy / Spain / France / Ireland / UK

Ken Loach’s film The Wind That shakes the Barley is controversial. Whilst the Jury at Cannes Film Festival awarded the Palme D’Or for Best Film, conservative mainstream media labeled it anti-British,_ a recruiting campaign for the IRA _and “old-fashioned propaganda” because of a perceived unfair portrayal of the unionist occupation forces. Historian Stephen Howe found the tale about the Irish republican independence struggle set in the 1920s’ politically distorted and misrepresenting, though he admits many of the scenes portrayed in the film have been reported by eyewitnesses.

Instead of asking the question of how cruel occupation forces were, are and have to be to maintain the power of exploiting one country economically for the benefit of another, the topic of the film could also be focused on the question of nationalism, politics and violence.

The key moment of interest in this film is not the tale of the armed Irish guerillas, from whose point of view history is told, but the result of the peace accords.
Only then the the different reasons for joining the underground army are revealed: Damien (Cillian Murphy) a doctor, joined out of socialist reasons, partly to combat the effects of poverty, whereas his brother Teddy (Padraic Delaney) puts nationalism first. Inevitably, after the peace accords, the different fractions in the alliance start to fall out with each other, and, already brutalised, resort to violence.

The story brandishes a clear warning of what happens when conservative, capitalist, religious patriotism meets left-wing socialist independence struggle.
The Loach brand includes as usual a tragic, unhappy end, a three-legged dog and wrestles with the topic of an individual’s failed struggle for a better society.
The film is produced in the director’s usual realistic acting and directing style alongside his experienced team. Nevertheless it does not live up to his previous cult films like Bread and Roses, Carla’s Song and Land and Freedom. Though the unobtrusive cinematography produces stunning pictures, most of the acting appears dilettantish like taken out of a school play, except for Cillian Murphy who sympathetically and realistically expresses the narrative. The additional retrospective claims that Loach never lets his actors read the whole script before filming; maybe he should, because there was just too much wooden performance with protagonists not knowing what to say in which situation and just standing around trying not to look silly. The hugely different reception of the film on the continent and the British Isles is worth exploring. Maybe armed guerilla movements have a better reputation on the continent because of the local “Resistence” fighting the nazis during the second world war, maybe there is also the underlying fear of the wobbly Northern Ireland reconciliation process flaming up again if the roots of the conflict are mentioned.
Given that background, Ken Loach has done an amazing and brave job in dealing with the Irish independent struggle. Now, with the launch of the DVD at the start of November, all of the harsh criticism has ebbed away, as the underlying fears of re-ignition of the Northern Ireland conflict have proven to be unfounded.

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