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  • Colin Fraser

THE WIND THAT SHAKES THE BARLEY






FIVE STARS As Ireland falls into civil unrest, two brothers find themselves on different sides.

Starring Cillian Murphy, Liam Cunningham


Director Ken Loach is well known for his determinedly gritty portrayals of working-class life in turmoil. Driven by subject matter, they tend to be unremittingly grim affairs that can leave audiences despairing: cheer-fests they are not. Notable among these was 1995’s LAND AND FREEDOM in which a Liverpudlian joins the fight against Spanish fascism.


Loach returns to similar territory but across the Irish sea shortly before the accord partitioned Ireland and fomented 80 years of ‘trouble’. Caught in this whirlwind are brothers Damian and Teddy who become radicalised following a particularly brutal incident at the hands of British troops. Rural Cork is turned into a training ground for young, determined men until the signing splits their allegiance. Damian continues to fight with the ‘irregulars’, a splinter of the IRA, while Teddy joins the Free State Army.


MICHAEL COLLINS was Neil Jordan’s response to this story, and THE WIND THAT SHAKES THE BARLEY is no less didactic. Murphy is the freckled, blue-eyed embodiment of Irish youth. He fights because he believes in the cause, not because he’s a thuggish, IRA killer. While this is true of his story, Loach suggests that it is largely true of all. Their recourse to murder is nestled in much soul-searching, while all British are painted as violent, villainous, one-dimensional invaders.


It undermines what is otherwise vintage Loach yet despite this tendency to moralise, he unearths truth in an extremely realistic and alarming fashion. The use of inexperienced actors among strong talent heightens the authenticity of this extraordinary, gut-wrenching experience. Plaudits including the Palme D’Or have poured in, confirming it is unmistakably the work of a master.


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