My Most Significant Movie: The Wind That Shakes The Barley ( 2006)
Screenplay by Paul Laverty
Directed by: Ken Loach
It’s really difficult to pick just one film as there are so many that just hit the spot ( and equally as many – if not more – that don’t).
However, after mulling it all over I have chosen ‘The Wind That Shakes The Barley’ – dir Ken Loach (2006).
On first viewing I was hit hard and remember feeling an overwhelming sense of… something, but what exactly was it? I have seen it a number of times since and it never fails to make an impression that remains long after leaving the cinema.
Its narrative is powerful, thought provoking and stirs the emotions but it is the movie’s cinematic beauty which provides a stark contrast against the bleak subject matter what makes it really stand out.
Set in rural Ireland in 1920 Cillian Murphy and Padraic Delaney play brothers Damian and Teddy.
Damian is due to leave for medical school in London but after witnessing atrocities committed by British troops (Black and Tans) joins the Irish Republican Army led by Teddy.
The film follows their often brutal journey leading up to the Anglo-Irish Treaty which paved the way for a partitioned Ireland. The Irish Free State replaces British rule but the brothers are split; Damian joining the Anti-Treaty IRA, Teddy supporting the new order.
Damien is captured during a raid for arms on a barracks commanded by Teddy. He is sentenced to death, and Teddy pleads with Damien to reveal details about the IRA. Damien refuses and is shot at dawn by a squad commanded by his own brother.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the sensitive and political subject matter, the film met with a barrage of criticism, although some of those writing about it hadn’t even seen it.
Chris Tookey in the Daily Mail commented: ‘’ It’s unashamedly pro-IRA propaganda, so simple-minded and fanatically anti-British that it’s a miracle Mel Gibson isn’t involved.’’
Historian, Ruth Dudley Edwards said Loach’s political viewpoint “requires the portrayal of the British as sadists and the Irish as romantic, idealistic resistance fighters who take to violence only because there is no other self-respecting course”
Tim Luckhurst of The Times said the film was a “poisonously anti-British corruption of the history of the war of Irish independence”
Despite the criticism in 2006 the film was awarded the prestigious Palme d’OR – ten years later Ken Loach’s latest film, ‘I, Daniel Blake’ has picked up another.
At its simplest level it’s a great story which keeps the audience gripped through an excellent screenplay (Paul Laverty) and direction (Ken Loach).
The cinematography and lighting specifically (Barry Ackroyd) is something that particularly stood out in this film. The lush greenery of Ireland contrasting with muted interiors and darkening skies produced a palette which reflected the developing tragic story itself.
Film reviewer Jack Matthews of the New York Daily said it was: “Beautifully shot, both in darkened homes and on the misty green Irish landscape by Loach’s frequent cinematographer Barry Ackroyd, “Wind” has a you-are-there intensity and intimacy about it that make it nearly overwhelming.”
Usually I will wax lyrically about the actors in all great films I have seen and without doubt they are excellent in this one too, Cillian Murphy is an ideal lead who plays the role with intelligence and sensitivity.
Ultimately however this film is very much an ensemble work, not just the actors but the whole production team. I think each separate element has combined to produce an almost perfect end product.
I say ‘almost’ because personally I would have ended the film after Damien was shot. I think that was powerful enough and felt the right finale. To end with the scene of Teddy visiting a heartbroken Sinead who tells him to ‘get off my land’ felt a bit like hammering home one of the films major themes.
However, I will allow that minor issue because overall this is one of my significant movies. It would be easy to say it’s because I have an Irish background, but I don’t think it is as simple as that.
The film resonates because it deals with major historical events on a microcosmic level. The issue isn’t just British v Irish, it’s also Landowner v Worker, Irish v Irish and Brother v Brother.
The main protagonists are developed and we care about what happens to them. This, I believe, is the key to any good storytelling. If we aren’t engaged with the characters we won’t follow them through their journeys. I did care and am not ashamed to say I shed tears.
If a film – essentially a work of fiction (albeit this one based on historical truths) can affect me so deeply and have me thinking about it long after the cinema has emptied I think it must be doing something right.
The Wind That Shakes The Barley is a beautiful and passionately expressed work of art.
TOOKEY, C (2006) ‘The Wind That Shakes The Barley’ [Online] 23 May Daily Mail [Accessed: 20 September 2016] http://www.dailymail.co.uk/tvshowbiz/article-392203/The-Wind-That-Shakes-The-Barley.html
DUDLEY EDWARDS, R (2006) ‘Why does Ken Loach loathe his country so much?’ 30 May Daily Mail [Accessed 20 September 2016] http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-388256/Why-does-Ken-Loach-loathe-country-much.html
LUCKHURST, T (2006) ‘Director in a class of his own’ 31 May The Times [Accessed: 20 September]
WIKIPEDIA. (2016) The Wind That Shakes The Barley [ONLINE] Available from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Wind_That_Shakes_the_Barley_(film)
The Wind That Shakes The Barley. (2006) FILM. Directed by Ken Loach [DVD]UK: SIXTEEN FILMS [ET AL]