Friday, June 23, 2006

THE WIND THAT SHAKES THE BARLEY - intelligent political drama

Ken Loach's new film, THE WIND THAT SHAKES THE BARLEY, is set in Ireland just after World War One. The country is ruled by the English and the Irish population is brutally surpressed by the Black and Tans - English soldiers who have themselves been brutalised by the "Great War". In such a time, ordinary folk are politicised. The movie focuses on two brothers, Damien and Teddy, who join the Republican movement. They become what we might now call insurgents. They shoot English soldiers point black. Damien, played by Cillian Murphy, is the heart and soul of the movie. He is painfully aware of his slide into brutality and his ethical compromises. Hating the tasks he feels he has to perform in order to bring about a free Ireland, he naturally feels betrayed by the treaty that the Republican leaders eventually sign with the British. While Teddy sees the concessions to an Irish parliament as a start - a temporary holding position on the road to complete freedom - Damien cannot stomach the idea that Irish MPs should swear an oath to the British king. The idea of sitting and waiting for greater freedom does not sit well with him given that the Irish poor are literally starving to death. And so the fight goes on. But now, the Irish who want to enforce the ratified treaty and have some kind of peace are fighting the Irish who want complete political and economic freedom or nothing.

THE WIND THAT SHAKES THE BARLEY is a wonderful piece of film-making. It tackles sensitive political material without feeling dogmatic or didactic or self-satisfied about its own intelligence. The movie provides genuine emotional and intellectual insight into the current political landscape. Best of all, it never sacrifices narrative for politics and the characters are never ciphers. Their actions and motivations may set up a fascinating political conflict, but they always seem genuine. So, while we have lengthy scenes in which characters simply sit in a room and debate politics, the audience' interest does not flag. For we are, by this point, passionately engaged in the debate because of our attachment to the protagonists. Credit for this must go to the screenplay by
Paul Laverty, who has worked with Loach on other political dramas, not least the outstanding flick, BREAD AND ROSES. The movie also has a uniformly excellent cast, of whom Cillian Murphy is perhaps the best known.

Overall, I cannot recommend this film highly enough. It is satisfying both as a historic drama and as a political meditation. However, in fairness, if you have no interest in politics you will probably be bored rigid.

THE WIND THAT SHAKES THE BARLEY premiered at Cannes 2006 where it won the Palme d'Or - the highest honour. It is now showing in the UK and plays in France from August 23rd and Australia from September 14th.

1 comment:

  1. Sorry - not as impressed as you. A film of 2 halves - second better than the first. Didn't realise they were brothers until late on! (How dumb am I?) Didn't move me enough. Typical Ken Loach?