‘The Wind That Shakes The Barley’

The Flying Column carrying out an ambush against British forces
The Flying Column carrying out an ambush against British forces

The Wind That Shakes The Barley

Directed by Ken Loach

Written by Paul Laverty

Starring Cillian Murphy, Padraic Delaney,

Liam Cunningham, Orla Fitzgerald

On General Release from June 23

FILM director Ken Loach is to be congratulated on his latest film, ‘The Wind That Shakes The Barley’.

His success in winning the prestigious Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival proves that films that deal with historical truth strike a chord with contemporary events.

The similarity with today’s Iraq is obvious to everyone who sees the film.

‘The Wind That Shakes The Barley’ is set in insurgent Ireland in the turbulent years of 1920-22.

The First World War of 1914-18, itself a product of imperialist contradictions and rivalries, gave a huge impetus to the centuries-old Irish struggle for independence.

The Easter Rising in Dublin in 1916 heralded the beginning of the end of the British Empire and inspired national movements as far apart as Egypt and India.

The execution of the Rising’s leaders and the brutal regime of military repression imposed on Ireland produced a revolutionary war of resistance, which by 1922 had militarily fought the British army to a standstill.

Previously at the general election in 1918, Sinn Fein (We Ourselves), the main nationalist party, had won a huge majority and established its own parliament (Dail).

This Dail was outlawed by the British authorities, went underground and continued to organise and resist.

The Irish Republican Army (IRA) was its military arm and it conducted a successful guerrilla war with mass popular support.

The famous mobile flying columns, which spearheaded this fight, were comprised of local youth who knew the localities and relied on the local population to protect, hide and feed them.

This is the historical background to Loach’s film and he truthfully and accurately reflects this.

The film is focused on two families in a rural area at the centre of the resistance.

Through these two families Loach brings out the stubborn resistance, the sacrifice and the courage against much better armed and trained forces.

The contradictions within the IRA, representing the different class interests, are also graphically shown.

Damien, a young doctor, is due to leave at the weekend to work in a London hospital.

He goes with his friends after a hurling match to say goodbye to the farm of a neighbour, Peggy, and her family.

The farm is raided by a squad of British soldiers, the murderous Black and Tans.

Peggy’s grandson, Micheail, refuses to reply in English to questioning and is beaten to death.

Damien’s friends and his brother Teddy (the local IRA leader) try in vain to persuade him to stay, but he is determined to leave.

But at the train station another confrontation with the Tans takes place.

The trade unions have a policy of not providing transport for the British military.

The train driver and the guard are beaten but refuse to move the train with the soldiers and the soldiers have to back off and the train leaves without them.

This simple scene shows the power of the working class and the quiet determined resistance, repeated thousands of times throughout the country, which defeated all the brutality and the mass terror of the occupying British military.

Damien joins the local IRA flying column and goes through a baptism of fire in the following months.

An attack on the police barracks to steal desperately-needed weapons and the shooting dead of four army officers in a bar are dealt with realistically.

They are later all captured, due to information given by an informer, and Teddy is brutally tortured for further information but will not give any.

Some of them escape with the help of a soldier and return safely to the locality.

Damien takes the responsibility of executing the informer, who he has known all his life, and the local English landlord Sir John Hamilton.

This scene is also dealt with sensitively.

Damien is nervous and reluctant and carries out his duty but with a heavy heart.

Through the character of Dan, the train driver, Loach skilfully brings in the struggle and aspirations of the working class to remove the British occupation and take ownership and control into their own hands.

Dan is a veteran of the 1913 Dublin lock-out and a fervent supporter of the socialist James Connolly and discovers that Damien is also.

These class differences in the IRA are brought out clearly in a court scene and later in the debate within the flying column when the Anglo-Irish Treaty is signed.

In the court scene the local magistrate orders the imprisonment of a local businessman, Sweeney, who is charging extortionate interest rates on a loan to a local housewife.

Teddy intervenes to secure his release and argues that without the likes of Sweeney supplying finance, they would be unable to purchase arms.

Dan and Damien disagree.

The Treaty details are later shown at the local cinema as newsreel and many of the audience feel betrayed.

The debate afterwards is intense and sharp.

All the opinions and different class perspectives are clearly spelt out.

This scene is very well done and makes everything clear.

Dan explains in the course of this debate that he only joined the armed struggle because of the programme of the first Dail, which was for the common ownership of the land by the people, and that only then could they eradicate poverty.

The bringing out of these class differences is the film’s great strength and Loach has done an excellent job on this.

When grandmother Peggy refuses to move when her home is burned down by the Black and Tans, despite the appeals of her friends and family, she explains that she was evicted when she was four years old during the famine years and nothing is going to make her move again.

The only way she will leave her home is in a box.

Peggy is Ireland: a lifetime of poverty, of starvation, of humiliation, but a stubborn refusal to bow to the occupiers.

The title of the film is based on an old Irish song, which is sung at Micheail’s funeral:

‘ ’Twas hard for mournful words to frame

‘To break the ties that bound us

‘Ah but harder still to bear the shame

‘Of foreign chains around us.

‘And so I said: the mountain glen

‘I’ll seek at morning early

‘And join the brave united men

‘While soft winds shake the barley.’

Everybody should see this film.