It’s time again for another Irish history lesson. Ten years back director Neil Jordan brought us "Michael Collins," a film about one of the leaders in the Irish War of Independence that took place in the early 1900s. Now there is a new film by acclaimed director Ken Loach that covers the same period from a different perspective, and it’s called "The Wind That Shakes The Barley."
The year is 1920, and the Irish are battling to get out from under British domination. The army has pulled back and the so-called “Black and Tan” mercenaries have been sent in to try and keep order through the use of brutal force, fear and intimidation. Two young brothers, Teddy and Damien O’Donovan, get caught up in the struggle for independence. Damien is studying to become a doctor, and he is about to go to London to continue his education. The thugs come to his village, round up all the lads and end up killing his friend Michael solely because he purposefully spoke Gaelic to the goons instead of English. Then, once Damien sees the goons beat the engineer of the train that is supposed to take him to the boat that will get him to England, he has seen enough, and he joins with his brother Teddy and friends in the IRA. They both become leaders within the movement as they take up arms in the guerilla warfare against the oppressor. Along the way they get ratted out by an informant, they get captured, one of the brothers is subjected to brutal torture before they escape, and one falls in love with a local lass who hides guns in her mother’s house. Eventually, after meeting out justice against the goons and the informant, word arrives that a truce has been agreed to. Teddy wants to keep on fighting, and Damien insists that they let the Irish Provisional Government call the shots. But when the treaty is officially signed, there is outrage among part of the IRA because they will have to swear allegiance to the Crown and will not have total independence. One of the brothers says that the struggle for complete freedom must continue, and one says that they have to abide by the treaty because it is the best offer available to them, thereby pitting sibling against sibling in an unforeseen battle that no one can win.
Never one to surrender to the lure of Hollywood, iconoclastic director Loach, director of other gems such as the gritty working class send-up "Riff-Raff" and the political thriller "Hidden Agenda," has created a powerful tour de force here with a cast of relatively unknown but excellent Irish actors. The film won the Golden Palm award at the 2006 Cannes Film Festival, and it should get some attention for an Oscar nomination in 2007.
The title of "The Wind That Shakes The Barley" comes from a traditional Irish folk song from the 18th century, and seeing this film will more then barely shake you to bottom of your soul.
© 2007 - Larry Carlin - Air Date: 4/4/2007
The Wind That Shakes The Barley
Ireland - 2006