The Wind That Shakes the Barley 2006 ★★★½

First film of the Letterboxd festival

I've never been one for patriotism. I have a certain protective view of my country, as any animal does of its territory, but the idea of flag-flying nationalism and jingoistic support of one's land just doesn't appeal very much to me (I speak German miles better than I do Irish, for instance). As such, I attribute the sense of esprit de corps I felt with these men far more to the strength of the filmmaking than to my own connection to the cause by birthright. There's an undeniable sense of siding with the Irish on the part of Loach and his screenwriter Paul Laverty, no arguing that, but the way in which they do so is such that it slowly persuades us of the validity of the cause. Much like Murphy's character, we are gradually roped in by the sense that not putting up a fight would somehow be wrong. This narrative persuasion naturally comes at the expense of the English soldiers' humanity, Loach and Laverty having to somewhat demonise them in the process. It's a problem, albeit one somewhat mitigated by a nice scene where one of the rebels converses with a soldier who opines that his being there is an act of loyalty to his nation too. The central fraternal relationship is maybe a bit clumsy in its contextualisation of the second conflict in the film, that between the pro and anti-Treaty forces. Covering both wars in the one film isn't all too easy, and the latter feels a little hastily treated, though the emotions it carries makes this less of a problem. It's in the naturalism of his characters that Loach finds his finest successes, the scene wherein the group discuss the pros and cons of the Irish Free State treaty a remarkable real sequence. By working without excess reaction shots, Loach makes it a more difficult task for each of the actors to espouse their characters' opinions. In doing so it sounds far less professional, less rehearsed, less written. Normally an actor tripping over their words makes the scene awkward to watch; Loach here uses it to emphasise the off-the-cuff passion of these people, the tension of the room in the heat of the moment, and the almost sickening shift of one brotherhood into two rival ones. It's a magnificent scene, certainly the film's best in my opinion, and one everything else has a bit of a tough time living up to. With cinematography that very nicely juxtaposes natural beauty and the ugliness of human conflict, it's a film with clear sympathies but one that nevertheless manages to find folly in mankind as a whole. Excellent performances, in particular from Liam Cunningham and Murphy (even if his accent is a little accentuated for my sensitive ears, the whole thing's set in my part of the country) make it engaging throughout, a wholly enjoyable and investing experience.

3 Comments

  • Interesting to hear an Irish take on this film. I mostly agree on your observations about the acting. The oversimplification of it all did bother me a bit though.

  • ""siding with the Irish""

    Which Irish?!
    Because Loach, general terrorist loving Stalinist scum bag that he is, paints 'The Troubles' as English vs Irish.
    And for a guy so in love with the Irish in general and the child bombing IRA in particular, he seems to ignore the fact that the IRA represented only part of these mythic Irish of his.

    What about the Protestants, still Irish in Ireland and who wanted to be part of the UK and at the time WANTED the soldiers there to protect them?
    Do these Irish not count for Loach (just as they don't for all the painful Irish American Noraid idiots) because they don't fit into his argument of nobody in Northern Ireland wanting the 'murdering English crusaders' there and everyone wanting to be apart from the UK?

    So I guess ""siding with the Irish"" means he's happy the UK troops are there and wants The North to be part of the UK? Oh, no...because THOSE Irish don't count.

  • Well I was referring to the earlier part of the film where it's still The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. I'm sure there were plenty of people of all religions who would have been quite happy to remain as part of that state. To make it a matter of Protestantism and Catholicism is, I think, just as much a mistake as to suggest every Irish person wanted an island-wide republic. In setting the whole story in Cork, literally the other side of the island to the northern counties and the later Troubles, I actually think Laverty and Loach are shying away from getting into a religious debate. It's very reductive to view them as not giving a toss about the pro-Treaty side; the vast majority of the plot is given to establishing a fraternal connection that goes on to show that neither side is right or wrong. Loach clearly thinks Ireland should be its own 32 county state, but he does give voice to the other side who disagree with them. Even if his film is very much in support of his views, it doesn't demonise the Irish who disagree with those. They absolutely do count.

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