Megan Clark | Where’s the Craic?
‘The Wind That Shakes the Barley’
Published: Wednesday, October 17, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, October 17, 2012 08:10
Filmed in 2006, “The Wind That Shakes the Barley”(2007) is a nuanced study of the national and social factors behind the Anglo−Irish War and the Irish Civil War.
“The Wind That Shakes the Barley” is set in County Cork in the 1920s, a decade that saw the Irish War of Independence and the subsequent Irish Civil War. Cillian Murphy — a favorite of this column — stars as Damien O’Donovan, a doctor about to move to England in order to practice medicine. Pádraic Delaney plays Teddy O’Donovan, Damien’s brother and an Irish revolutionary. Early in the film, Damien witnesses several instances of extreme violence perpetrated by occupying British soldiers. These experiences and his brother’s encouragement lead Damien to stay in Ireland and join the IRA.
Both Murphy and Delaney give tremendous performances as brothers trapped in a conflict that originally brings them together but later pits them against each other. Murphy and Delaney demonstrate the inner turmoil created by waging a guerilla war in order to achieve peace. “The Wind That Shakes the Barley” is sympathetic to the IRA in its early 20th century incarnation. It advocates for the necessity of war to alleviate a tyrannical government, but also demonstrates the impossibility of accomplishing peace through war.
“The Wind That Shakes the Barley” received international attention after winning the Palme d’Or, the top award at the Cannes Film Festival. While most critics lauded the film, it sparked controversy among those who criticized it for its inflammatory bias toward Irish nationalists and socialists. However, many of the film’s critics refused to see it, making their comments ridiculous and invalid. Significantly, criticism and praise for the film came from both Irish and English voices.
Director Ken Loach used the film to explore the socialist underpinnings of the Republican opposition to the Anglo−Irish Treaty that ended the War of Independence. This opposition led to the Irish Civil War. In last week’s review, I wrote that “Michael Collins” (1996) inaccurately portrayed the Irish Civil War as a conflict fought solely over the partition of Ireland. “The Wind That Shakes the Barley” introduces social factors in order to complicate the political ones behind the Civil War. These factors are similarly more complicated than anti−partition sentiment.
In Loach’s film, the Republicans demand a reorganization of society along more equitable lines and refuse to settle for an economic and social system that impoverishes the majority of its citizens, even if that system is free of British rule. They decry absentee landlordism, an arrangement in which most people do not own their own homes and are at the mercy of their landlords. Loach introduces a crucial element into the discourse on the Irish Civil War but also reveals a strong bias toward the Republicans. Nonetheless, since Loach is a filmmaker instead of a journalist, I find this bias entirely acceptable.
Loach was also criticized for portraying the British forces as outrageously brutal. This critique is justified. In the film, British officers murder a 17 year old kid, attack an old man and ransack a family’s house. However, Loach also treats the British soldiers with compassion. In one scene, Damien has been arrested and is being questioned by a British officer. He denounces the British occupation. The officer responds, his voice breaking, “I’m just a soldier sent by my government.” He repeats this line and then yells at Damien for his disrespect after men died for him at the Somme. This scene demonstrates how many British soldiers, still reeling from World War I, felt powerless in Ireland.
While the intensity of this film makes it distasteful to some, I would recommend it to anyone looking for a fresh perspective on the Irish Civil War.
Megan Clark is a junior majoring in history. She can be reached at Megan.Clark@tufts.edu.