director Ken Loach
Ken Loach’s The Wind That Shakes the Barley is set during the 1920’s in Ireland during the Irish War for Independence and the resulting Irish Civil War, a drama played out, as oft civil war stories are, at the clash between two brothers.
At the onset of the film, Damien O’Donovan (Cillian Murphy) is a young doctor, not motivated to join his brother Teddy (Pádraic Delaney) in the Irish Republican Army in grass roots efforts to oust the brutal imperialist Black and Tans who mete out viciousness to the locals. But after seeing too much brutality, Damien is convinced to take up arms and is not only forced to engage in the guerrilla war but in executing prisoners and even a young Irish traitor to the cause.
Against all odds, the battle wins out against the established imperial army, but concessions and treaties make for rifts and valleys between the newly freed Irish. Teddy’s IRA gang moves into politics, taking up arms and essentially replacing the British with their own brand of brutal leadership, attempting to disarm their old companions and becoming the establishment. This breaks down the sides against one another, eventually leading the dramatic ending in which one brother must oversee the execution of the other.
Loach’s film is a work of humanism and social realism, a naturalistic drama told with great earnestness. It won the Palme D’Or at Cannes in 2006 and became one of the most highly-grossing Irish independent film productions of all time. And it is a good film.
I watched it with Felix, my 13 year old son, who was impressed by it. I found that the story does a good job of elucidating the fractious factions of Irish history and politics in telling its personal, dramatic tale. It’s solid stuff, certainly. I’d never seen any of Loach’s films before this, though have had this in my film queue for some time. I had a friend who loved this film.
I would say that as good and solid as it is, it does at times play out like a more standard, almost made-for-television drama. I don’t know if this would have felt the same on the big screen or not. But for the beauty of the landscapes and the natural Irish countryside in which the action is filmed, it felt less cinematic at times than other films of its genre that I’ve seen. Consider that a qualifier, though not a major criticism. Overall, a very fine film.