Loach film has tremendous impact


(Canscene) — At about 8:30 one morning recently, I finished Canadian Derek Lundy’s fine book The Bloody Red Hand. It’s an objective history of the six provinces partitioned from the remainder of Ireland when a treaty was signed with England in 1922. Those provinces became known as Northern Ireland.

Two hours later, I was at a preview of British director Ken Loach’s newest film The Wind That Shakes the Barley, scheduled to be shown this month at the Toronto International Film Festival.

Lundy’s book emphasizes how in Northern Ireland partitioning has been a never-ending source of tension and conflict,. both religious and political with the latest “troubles” lasting over 30 years until the present uneasy peace. Loach’s film carries us back to the roots of that partitioning.

The film is set in a rural community in County Cork, a microcosm of Ireland during 1920-22 when the country was a virtual British colony, dominated by a hostile soldiery and a special police force known as the Black and Tans. This “elite” group was made up of volunteer ex-officers of the British Army in the First World War and became infamous for their brutality.


Taking sides
The main protagonists are Damien (Cillian Murphy) a young medical student on his way to further training in London and his older brother Teddy (Padraic Delaney) dedicated leader of a local guerilla group. Gentle Damien resists his brother’s urging to join him in the fight until he becomes directly involved in two brutal incidents which compel him also to take up the fight.

What follows as the poorly armed locals learn to attack army premises and convoys is violently conveyed in sequences that sweep us forward relentlessly through vicious acts on both sides, filmed without sentimentalization or comment until treaty is signed with Britain.

But Ireland is far from united; many of the former rebels resent this fact. With Teddy the former guerilla leader upholding the treaty and Damien now in the IRA, taking up arms against the Free State, civil war begins, sweeping the brothers forward to a tragic climax.

Great performances
Murphy and Delaney are superb as the two brothers with great supporting performances from a cast that includes Liam Cunningham, Gerard Kennedy and Roger Allam .

Ken Loach has given us a film that, often set against spectacular landscapes never dwells on the pictorial elements; they are there. The guerillas, a small band of men are far from the tailored trenchcoat, ballad – singing Robin Hoods we have seen in many Hollywood films about the “troubles;” they are there. And by choosing a fictional story that records show is all too typical of those times, Loach has freed himself of the shackles of history and shown us how people all over Ireland felt about centuries of British oppression.

Since The Wind that Shakes the Barley won the coveted Palme D’or at Cannes in May it has caused some controversy in the UK because, it appears, some people justly revolted by the 30-year violence in Northern Ireland refuse to look at its roots. Even though the film is set in the far south of Ireland those roots are clearly shown here for all of us to evaluate.

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