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Film Review: The Wind That Shakes The Barley

category national | arts and media | opinion/analysis author Sunday July 02, 2006 17:33author by James R Report this post to the editors

Worthwhile Stereotypes, Templates and Routines?

Just after returning from watching Ken Loach's Palm D'or reaping drama The Wind That Shakes The Barley and like most feel slightly compelled to add one or two words to the flurry of type and hype that has accompanied the movies release on these shores. The Wind That Shakes The Barley is a typical Loach movie betraying many of the core techniques of his previous outtings. Again he relies on plunging a shallowly crafted personal relationship, this time between two brothers, into a set of tragic circumstances. These circumstances provide an emotional cover for his overly didactic political approach to popularising alternative historical mythologies that challenge the authors of a victors' history. This time the contested historicity is the rabid nationalism of the Irish text book, that sweeps aside socialist and labour based movements in the process of consolidation of the free state.

bfbarley23.jpg

Loach as usual creates his alternative historical narratives brilliantly. As before in the Spanish Civil War epic Land and Freedom, his pastiche of Orwell's experiences in Homage to Catalonia, which he gave a romantic flurry that nearly ends on two opposite ends of the barriacades outside the Barcelona telephone exchange. He also returns to his routine technique of using moments of extended tense political debate to foreground the various shades of arguments operating within the historical juncture he is focussing on. In Land and Freedom this was deployed around collectivisation of the village as well as militarisation and in Bread and Roses it was used during the discussions on joining a union. Here he pushes an anti-treaty agenda based on the social policy of the democratic programme of the first Dail to the front during arguments in a republican court that challenges the extortionate income charged by a local gombeen man and later prior to the Treaty vote itself.

Equally, a quintessential part of Loach's work is his use of characters that roll across the screen as near archetypes, each representing different political persausions and social back grounds. Its no surprise again to see Loach fall back on the idea of the "sell out". The reformist who takes the uniform of the new state and falls back in line with wealth and elites. In this new film, it's the Cillian Murphy character's brother who takes the bait - while in his Catalan epic, a college educated American communist plays the same role. Another routine stereotype from Irish folk histroy here is Dan, the Jackeen train driving union man who brings the workshop's and field's socialism of Connolly down to the rural backwater village where the films terse action takes place.

The routinely wheeled out movie critics of the Irish media really managed to display a tremendous historical ignorance in discussions of this movie. Accusing Loach of brushing over IRA thuggery and painting an anti-imperial propaganda piece that leaves the English nation damned. Loach does neither of these things. Despite the 2-d nature of much of his character development there is marked moments of subtlety in painting the black and tans. He makes it apparent they are the shell shocked victims of a British ruling class who have left them "up to their necks in shit, blood and vomit for four years in the trenches." This is a tension that is completely excorcised from the standard nationalist narratives of the war of independence, the moment where a young British soldier effectively mutinies and frees republican prisoners is a wonderful adage hinting at disaffection among the lower ranking British pommie during WW1 and the popular slogan "mutiny is the conscience of war" painted on trench walls.

With so many claiming Loach romanticises the irregular movement during the period, it was odd to find myself thinking that the most apt commentater in public yet has been the arts minister John O'Donaghue. Displaying on Newstalk, a keen knowledge of the submerged role of socialist ideas and the Connollyite legacy on the anti-treaty side when arguing that Loach was far from a fantasist. On a popular culture level Loach is doing nothing new with this movie, but that noone remembered Ronan Bennet's controversially scripted mini series for RTE back a few years ago, Rebel Heart , is odd and foregrounds the importance of the Loach brand. Dealing with exactly the same themes of how dreams of a workers republic were betrayed and stunted, the lack of note given to this RTE series is telling in how willing people are to slide back into the myths of Mother Ireland and perhaps explains quite a bit of the muffled response given to Loach's movie by both conservatives and revisionists.

Left wondering why Loach didn't just make a movie on the Limerick Soviet or concentrate on the exploits of Peader O'Donnell or Saor Eire put me in the mind that Loach really is someone who should be placed in the same category as Brecht. These are dramatists of little subtlety, who use their work to foreground a system of exploitation and recuperation that transverses different historical periods. This is a very modernist sense of mass education, popularising the idea of struggle from below and celebrating the undefeated and utterly indefatigable spirit of all under dogs. While Mike Leigh summons a darker, microcosmic reflection on the effects of class on people's lives making him sit straddled across the legacy of kitchen sink drama with all the brooding prowess of an Eastenders marriage break up. Ken Loach's movies are the Coronation Street of class struggle, ordinary everyday good natured folk thrown into moments of severe historical rupture and forced to deal with the constant betrayal of the working class by leaders and elites. That such lessons can be drawn so often, goes some way to explaining the cast iron soap like stereotypes, templates and routines that he resorts to so readily to illustrate them in his work.

Anyone interested in checking out another Loach movie can do worse that headling along to the next fundraiser for the IWU, which is hosting a showing of the excellent Ken Loach film ‘Bread and Roses’ on the struggle for Trade Union rights faced by workers. The night will also include revolutionary music from Ireland and across the globe. The screening is on Friday 28th July, Lloyd’s Bar, Amiens St, Dublin 1. The time was never mentioned on the event listing on this site, so maybe someone out there knows?

author by Tompublication date Mon Jul 03, 2006 12:38Report this post to the editors

Loach's film is truly excellent.
It protrays the savagery of the Black and Tan and the Auxillaries very accurately.
The majority of the people of Ireland were hostile or indifferent to the IRA until the British committed brutal reprisals against the Irish population and therefore fueled the insurrection.
The Irish people were patiently waiting for Home Rule post WWI but the activities of the British authorities confirmed to them that full independence was necessary.
Loach is completely misguided in his sympathy for the Marxist fringe of the IRA represented by the charachters of Dan and Damien in his brilliant movie.
The vast majority of the Irish people ratified the 1922 Threaty by referendum because they recognised that full independence was not realistic. As barbarous the Tan war, the British had not unleased the full force of its military because of public disquiet in England but if the Irish people rejected the Threaty they knew that British sympathy for a full unlimited military offensive would grow.
It was indeed the "fear" of the people rather than the "will" of the people. But the people were suffering as a result of the continued IRA campaign and they had had enough.
The bulk of the IRA did not support the Threaty and refused to accept the decision of the Irish people.
But Free State had a democratic mandate and the right to put down the rebellion of the IRA and attacks on Free State troops by Republicans and the fighting and destruction in Dublin turned people against Liam Lynch and other extremists.
But the majority of the IRA were not marxists or socialist but simply Irish nationalists who wanted political independence.
The fringe of Connallyites were never influential nor powerful in the Republican movement of that time.
The issues in the Civil War in the South were partition and the oath of allegience to the British Crown.
After the defeat of the IRA by the Free State, the vast majority of the Old IRA and their supporters later formed Fianna Fail.
When De Valera later became Taoiseach he gradually dismantled British Commonwealth dominion over Ireland and sought economic independence through the economic war of the 1930's and this paved the road for Fine Gael to declare Ireland a Republic after the WW2 when the British empire was in shreds though De Valera thought it too soon. He had wanted to negotiate a united Ireland.
The Irish people had fought for centuries for independence from Britain principally because they were tenants to British landowners in their own country. The Land War of the late 19th century and the popularity of the Nationalist Party of Parnell and Redmond was due to the Irish populations desire to own their property.
For farm labourers, some of the poorest small farmers or dock or factory workers in Dublin Marxism was attractive but to no-one else.
The smaller underground IRA that survived for decades afterwards and were responsible for armed campaign from the late 1960's to the present were never truly Marxist either but rather Irish Nationalists who simply wanted Ireland to be united as a 32 country republic.
Sinn Fein likes to pretend they are socialists but they are ultimately nationalists.
As the armed struggle is abandoned and they move gradually into the political mainstream they will either merge with Fianna Fail or steal voters from them and become the dominant political party north and south.
The economic links between Northern and Southern Ireland are strengthening and relations between unionists and nationalists while still hostile are gradually giving way to co-operation.
But Northern Ireland is more likely to become a separate political entity rather than a part of a 32 county republic or remaining a part of the UK in the future.

author by The Long Fellapublication date Mon Jul 03, 2006 12:44Report this post to the editors

Interesting review. Saw it myself finally; mixed feelings despite being a fan of Loach and agreeing with the points he was making. The antidote to the Michael Collin's hype of 10 years ago. What is interesting is that the Collins movie was loved by everyone from FF to the Shinners; in fact SF especially loved it despite it being about the ultimate Free Stater. There doesn't seem to be the same enthusiasm for this-too many raw nerves on the subject of hard men turning on former comrades. Teddy is the operator, the fighting man and he responds to the 'dissidents' in the same way; kill them. Damien is the unrealistic thinker who really believes in the Republic? Hope it does really well, the element of confusion and contradiction will be good fo Irish audiences.

author by d'otherpublication date Mon Jul 03, 2006 13:36Report this post to the editors

The element of contradiction will be good for Irish audiences. As a friend put it to me after seeing it, the portrayal of revolution is also good in cutting across an idea that revolutions are made up of a series of demonstrations that simply get larger and larger until they stumble upon a common slogan that all the workers' councils agree to simultaneously and use to vote in communism. In this movie it is a long drawn out affair with periods of quite and boredom and not a whole lot of action either here or there. This sort of makes a shambles of romanticism and again brings to mind the lazier moments of Land and Freedom with the bored shouting abuse back and forth across the front line trenches or the haphazard encounter with the other English bloke on the CNT barricade in Barcelona.

author by Donnchadhpublication date Mon Jul 03, 2006 14:54Report this post to the editors

I disagree that the Damian character is unrealistic. He is totally realistic. As history has proven, the free state just continued the system of injustice and inequality where the British had left off. All that happened was that the accents of the powerful changed. Once you recognise British law in Ireland you become part of that law and end up defending it against the anger of the oppressed.

author by Aine Griffinpublication date Mon Jul 17, 2006 15:35author email aineneebarry at hotmail dot comReport this post to the editors

Brillant Film .
Let there be no doubt about the terror caused by the Black and Tans and Auxillaries who were little more than disaffected soldiers who had failed to recover from the atrocites of the trenches in WW1and inflicted their Post Traumatic Stress Disorders uncontrolled and unabated on innocent irish Civilians and Prisioners of War.

True first hand accounts of the treachery of the Back and Tans and the impact of their barbaic acts are to be found in the Dublin's ,Rebel Cork's ,Limerick's, and Kerry's Fighting Stories published in the 1940's by the Kerryman.Stories written by the Freedom Fighters themselves,Ernie o Malley,Joe Reynolds, Sean MacGarry, Piaras Beaslai,John McCann, John Brennan, Thomas Ashe ,Con Casey,Tom Barry, Patrick Lynch and many more.Most people remember Bloody Sunday but our first Bloody Sunday was in Croak Park when the Auxillaries Opened fire on crowds supporting Dublin and Tipperary footy killing 14 spectators and wounding 60.
They tortured our people and executed our Prisioners of War including the 18 year old Kevin Barry.

Media Coverage then was not what it is today so let this movie be seen as a poignant reminder of a history many British people would chose to forget and many more are ignorant of and let it be a reminder to the Irish people that our freedom was paid for with the blood of our people.

While it must be recognised as a work of fiction the historical and cultural imput are true and accurate of that period

author by Annepublication date Mon Jul 24, 2006 19:40author email iamthewildrose at yahoo dot co dot ukReport this post to the editors

i found it a truly emotional film.everything about it was perfectly performed.the tragedy of it was we ended up doing to our own what the british had done to us.i literally could have cried for ireland.

author by Giles Bradleypublication date Wed Aug 16, 2006 11:22author email gilesbradley at email dot comReport this post to the editors

Like most English people I'm pretty ignorant about Irish history but was aware that our relations with Ireland didn't exactly leave us covered in glory in the past. I saw the film last night (in Dublin) and felt such shame at the way Britain has treated you guys in the past. I'm glad that at last Ireland is thriving on its own.

author by John Meehanpublication date Tue Sep 19, 2006 00:44Report this post to the editors

Review of The Wind That Shakes the Barley

"Our film is a little step in the British confronting their
imperialist history. Maybe if we tell the truth about the past we can
tell the truth about the present." - Ken Loach

The film opens with young men playing a vigorous game of hurling in
West Cork; we are transported back in time to a beautiful part of
rural Ireland in 1920. Everything seems calm - one of the hurlers is
pissed off because the referee threatened to send him off! The players
troop off to visit a friends´ house - but then all is changed,
brutally.

A frenzied gang of heavily armed British soldiers charges down a path,
lining the players up against a wall. Screaming abuse, threatening the
women of the house, and ranting about the "Defence of the Realm Act",
the officer orders his squaddies to get the names and addresses of all
present.

The humiliating ritual starts; tension crackles, but is broken when
one of the players answers, in Irish "Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin". The
barbaric soldiers are not bilingual, and demand a name in the English
language.

We sympathise with the stubborn and brave Mícheál, especially when he
lands punches on one of his persecutors.

His sister foresees the grave danger; as does the young medical
student Damien. They helplessly tell their Black and Tan persecutors
their friend´s English language name (Michael O´Sullivan), and where
he comes from, but it´s no use. It´s too late.

The brutalised British soldiers take Mícheál inside a barn, then
torture and kill him.

At Mícheál´s wake, a woman sings, hauntingly, from "The Wind that
Shakes the Barley"

"Twas hard the mournful words to frame
To break the ties that bound us
Ah, but harder still to bear the shame
Of foreign chains around us"

There´s no turning back - Teddy, Damien´s brother, is busy organising
resistance - We witness the coming together of the guerrilla fighters
who dominate the rest of the film.

Damien is still emigrating - he questions, sharply, whether small
Irish forces have any chance against thousands of well-armed British
troops. Mícheál only died because he would not speak English.

The medical student heads for the train station, as his friend Sinéad
makes a crucial point : it´s OK for him - but they can´t all abandon
their homesteads to get respectable new careers in London.

As Damien buys his one-way ticket out of the war zone the workers´
movement crosses his path : in the shape of Dan, a train-driver,
veteran of the 1913 lock-out and follower of James Connolly.
Black-and-Tans are trying to board the train but are warned by the
alarmed and frightened station-master they cannot travel - the burly
determined figure of Dan marches purposefully towards the squaddies
and lays down the law. The Irish Transport and General Workers´ Union
had decided no trains are carrying British military personnel or
equipment, and Dan implements the policy (with relish)! The soldiers
savagely assault Dan and the station-master, but their terror is
driven by impotent rage. - No train-ride for the tans - no drivers
willing to have them on board.

Damien witnesses the scene, takes it all in, returns home and joins
up.

The two characters Damien and Dan, drawn together by the War of
Independence, focus on the bigger picture. Through them we see a red
thread in the revolutionary struggle against foreign occupation - mass
action and the power ordinary people achieve when they act
collectively and democratically.

Damien's guerilla band - eleven strong, led by his brother Teddy - are
captured and thrown into a cell. Damien immediately recognises
another prisoner - Dan the train-driver. Damien reads a William Blake
poem scrawled on the cell wall - put there by Dan. The medical
student learnds more of Connolly's brand of socialism from the
train-driver - who educated himself in the Frongoch Internment after
the 1916 Rising.

Damien´s well-articulated principles become the key factor rescuing
the guerrilla band from execution in a black-and-tan prison.

Damien is hauled before a British Officer for questioning; he´s only
defending a democratic mandate - if Britain had respected Sinn Féin
electoral victory in 1919, when the party won 73 out of 105 seats,
he´d not be fighting the war.

The fighters are not criminals, gangsters, or mindless thugs.

The officer lets the medical student know how brutalised the soldiers
have become because of living in the hell of world war trenches. He
storms out of the interrogation room, in great agitation. Observing
this, a young soldier switches sides. Later that evening he releases
most of the guerrillas, including Damian Dan and Teddy (who has been
tortured by the Tans).

Damien and Dan see beyond the guerrilla warfare in west Cork, and seek
a workers´ republic - not for them cosmetic change, with red
letter-boxes painted green, and Irish flags replacing the hated Union
Jack.

The perspective is brilliantly brought to life when the guerrilla
fighters witness a republican court : a woman judge hears the case.
An old impoverished woman, who speaks Irish and can not make head or
tail of the legal proceedings, is deeply in debt to a businessman, who
is charging 500 per cent interest. The judge rules against the
gombeen-man, ordering him to pay compensation to his victim, and
commits him to jail till the fine is paid.

This is a neat reversal of Mícheál's tragic fate - in the republican
court-room rules are bent to favour the downtrodden Irish speaker.

Teddy, Damien´s brother, intervenes along with some guerrilla
colleagues to rescue the exploiter. The issue is thrashed out in the
court, Damien and Dan side with the judge. Teddy gets his way - the
businessman helps buy weapons to be used in the fight against the
British Army.

The seeds of the counter-revolution are identified within the
revolution - later, when the treaty is signed and the British Army
leaves, Teddy and the local gombeen-man rule the roost.

In a bitter tragic ending, Teddy organises the execution of Damien.
Such things really happened - no wonder the Civil War left generations
of bitterness in its wake.

Ken Loach´s sympathies are with the anti-Treaty side - unlike Neil
Jordan, who made "Michael Collins".

The two films, in very different ways, convey the magnificent story of
Ireland´s War of Independence and the following Civil War.

n Jordan´s tale, it´s hard to see why the anti-treaty side existed at
all.

When the Dáil voted on the Anglo-Irish treaty only six of the 121
deputies were women - they all voted No.

The state which emerged from the ruins of the Civil War was a
priest-ridden Catholic sectarian backwater; the bishops orchestrated a
ruthless campaign of social repression, and women were driven
backwards.

At one point in the film a landlord is taken hostage and is then
executed - his information had led the British army to Teddy's
guerilla band, and brought them to the brink of execution. The
landlord exchanges heated words with Teddy - when someone knows death
is near, they may as well throw caution ot the wind, and tell the
truth - diplomatic niceties are thrown out fhe window. This landlord
warns Teddy and the other guerillas they will only achieve "a
priest-ridden backwater" - unfortunately, the prediction turns out ot
be right.

Ken Loach´s film is brilliant, complex - a great multi-sided story.
No wonder it won the Palme d'Or at Cannes. I hope he returns to Irish
history with a future film.

The Irish Film Board says that The Wind That Shakes The Barley "has
become the highest-grossing independent Irish-made film at the
box-office in Ireland" - Irish Times, August 8 2006.

John Meehan 8 August 2006

==========================

Originally published in Socialist Outlook [not online], 10, September 2006,
available from PO Box 1109, London, N4 2UU, England. Subscriptions for 4
issues: Britain £10, Europe £13, international £15.

author by C Guerinpublication date Tue Sep 19, 2006 02:01Report this post to the editors

James R., I strongly disagree on your theory about why critics have disregarded the BBC's series, 'Rebel Heart'. It has less to do with the psychology of the Irish, as you would have it, and more to do with the fact that it was clichéd, derivative and badly written, and completely worthy of being forgotten.
The idea was alright, but the execution was dreadful.

To illustrate, here is how it ends: hero and his friend have (predictably) ended up on opposite sides in the Civil War. Hero and friend slug it out with their respective opponents in a Dublin building. Hero and friend encounter each other and each shoots before they have had time to recognise the other. The last line uttered before they expire is: "At least we both died for Ireland!"

One point it has in common with The Wind that Shakes the Barley, however, is that the protagonists come from a similar social background and were medical students. I would think both were based partly on Ernie O' Malley.

author by Anonymouspublication date Wed Sep 27, 2006 12:02Report this post to the editors

This is the sentence Damien O'Donovan tells before executing Reilly, the traitor in the movie. You can interpret this sentence inside the movie, as Damien´s side, the socialists are finally loosing, and social ideals are burried.
Or you can interpret it having a look at the nowadays' Ireland. Is this Ireland worthy of these fights, of 3 centuries of struggle against the British empire? Where are these socialist ideals? Larkin, on O'Connel street is probably crying when he sees the savage liberalism, individualism in Dublin. People are quiet, happy: the economy is stable (for the moment) and they have suffered so much from unemployment this past century. Now, they have a job and a home, not like twenty years ago. But be careful, as the crisis that happened after the Celtic tiger times can come back and bring back everybody to the reality of capitalism. All IT companies came in the 90's and made money in Ireland. Now they are going to India... just cheaper. And no worries a lot of factories will be built in Eastern Europe in the next years (I think IBM already kicked out some workers last year...).
And just to speak about sharing capitals and the production... what's happening with public services in Ireland? How long do you have to wait for buses? How often is your rubbish taken out of your gate? How long do you have to wait in hospitals? Who is paying your healthcare? What happens if you have no money for it? How much is your rent?
I just hope this movie will awake some people and souls in Ireland. It is a magnific country with a brilliant history of bravour. But don't forget by who it was built and with which idea...

author by Mark Cpublication date Wed Sep 27, 2006 15:41Report this post to the editors

I think the statement he makes before killing Reilly is something along the lines of: 'I hope the Ireland we are fighting for is worth it'.

This implies that he hopes the future Ireland will be worth all the fighting that has gone on in his immediate past.

Just a note.

author by PAULpublication date Wed Sep 27, 2006 18:00Report this post to the editors

Little has changed since the British left. Or did they?
The PD/Fine Gael Blueshirts are more dangerous than any Orangeman/freemason.
Proof is in the Court system.
How do you expect to get 'justice' when all members of the BAR are really members of 'BRITISH ACCREDITATION RESEARCH'.

author by Johnpublication date Fri Jun 26, 2009 10:09Report this post to the editors

Agree with discussions of Loach's strengths but remember that, as with his last few films, the screenplay was written by Paul Laverty.

He deserves the credit / criticisms listed here at least as much as the director, if not moreso.

author by We the Peoplepublication date Fri Jun 26, 2009 18:19Report this post to the editors

They must like you Paul.
They haven't pulled your comment on the BAR as conspiratorial nuttery nonsense.
The BAR is acronym for the British Accreditation Registry , a Corporation of London where Fees and Moneys are extracted from Individuals in their Courts. It is all about contracts and revenue. It's a racket. That is why games are played on a COURT.

Our Judges are sworn to the London Lodge of masonry first and foremost and secondly to our Constitution. Freedom is a myth.

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