Magazine article The Spectator

Vicious Circle

Magazine article The Spectator

Vicious Circle

Article excerpt

The Wind that Shakes the Barley 15, selected cinemas

Ken Loach won the Palme d'Or in Cannes last month with The Wind that Shakes the Barley and has since been the object of several abusive articles in the British press. He will be unsurprised (and probably untroubled) -- his films usually cause a rumpus. This one is set in Ireland in the 1920s, and it is, shall we say, a partial history.

The film's hero is Damien (Cillian Murphy), a young Irish doctor who takes the oath of the Irish Republican Army after witnessing two brutal attacks by the Black and Tans -- one the murder of a close friend, the other the beating of an elderly train guard.

The film describes the activities of the 'Flying Column', of which Damien becomes a member and then a leader. He and his comrades are resolved to answer the terror imposed by the Black and Tans by inflicting a terror of their own. After the Anglo-Irish Treaty of December 1921, the pro-Treatyites (including Damien's brother, Teddy) are violently opposed by the anti-Treaty Republicans (including Damien). Former comrades are turned into enemies, and tragedy is the outcome.

It is a fascinating film despite its flaws.

Depressing, harrowing and certainly not enjoyable, but rewarding nonetheless. The way in which Loach handles violence is very effective and far more sensible than the usual movie nonsense: here, life becomes lifeless without ceremony; death is abrupt and unmomentous. The scenes containing British soldiers are the least successful since they are all conducted at the same pitch and volume, but the scenes of debate, comradeship and discussion between the Irish are unstructured and authentic.

The film has a raw atmosphere which is extremely satisfying: the weather, the clothes, the silence, the rain blowing across the hills -- you can almost breathe the smell of wet heather and mackintosh.

Cillian Murphy, whom I have never particularly admired until now, is superb as Damien. He does very little in the way of acting, which is the best acting of all, and he seems more to take part than to shine -- he is outstanding without standing out.

His pivotal scene, in which he is ordered to execute a boy he has known all his life, is hugely powerful.

But to make any film with only one side fully realised is a mistake. The Wind that Shakes the Barley is told exclusively from the Irish perspective (which is why Loach had to field such a barrage of criticism) and the British are represented by the Black and Tans. As such they are a crew of identikit thugs, yelling, beating, or yelling while they beat. …

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