The Wind That Shakes the Barley

March 22nd, 2007 DVD Reviews, Film, Xpress

Ken Loach was always heading for a Palme D’or at Cannes. Too incendiary for the Oscars, his themes represent the most confronting of political correct era. The child confiscation scene in Ladybird Ladybird would make the hardiest Academy voter’s Botox melt right out of their face.

Together with his refusal to pull punches is the fact Loach doesn’t tell the American story, and few foreign films will ever win Best Picture (when the remake of a Hong Kong crime thriller gets the top gong, is it really an accolade you want anyway?)

If you think you know the story of the republican battles that formed the Irish cultural backdrop of the 20th century, The Wind that Shakes the Barley is essential viewing.

It’s among the most nakedly plot driven of Loach’s films, and tells the story of the first stirrings of Irish rebellion against the occupation by the British, who consider Ireland part of the British Isles. In Loach’s vision, the British are no more than a post World War I Stasi, terrorising and executing the locals of Damien’s (Cillian Murphy) village with impunity.

Instead of going to London to fulfil his ambition of being a doctor, the brutality is too much, and Damien remains at home to join a fledgling armed resistance movement.

Here’s where — if this had been an American film — Damien and his brothers in arms would have turned into a Rambo-style allegory standing up for their freedom. With their ideologies of war shaped by John Wayne and General Patton they have no taste for the nuance of war Europeans have, where there are no clear-cut bad guys.

When the Irish government sign a peace accord with the British, half the rebels consider it a sell-out (including Damien), the other salvation (including his brother Teddy). It turns a desperate situation into a heartbreaking and desperate situation, and the script shines together with Loach’s authentic depiction of the mood, colour and tone of 1920’s Ireland.

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