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The Wind That Shakes The Barley

on March 16, 2007 by Richard Mowe
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Now the proud recipient of one of the top accolades in filmdom, the Cannes Film Festival's Golden Palm, Ken Loach should find that his new film will find its chances of wider exposure greatly enhanced. The troubles of Ireland have never been at easy sell, but The Wind That Shakes the Barley has a wider resonance about the forces of occupation in any country feeding the exponents of political extremism. Both Loach and his collaborator, writer Paul Laverty, have made no bones about comparisons with Iraq and elsewhere.

Set in the years leading up to the Irish Civil War of 1922, this is a handsomely mounted and meticulously set piece that achieves a balance in its arguments even if on occasions the speechifying is a shade too deliberate. The main protagonists are the members of an IRA column waging war on the notorious Black and Tans, former British soldiers whose methods in aiding the Royal Irish Constabulary in quelling rebellion were often brutal.

Cillian Murphy plays Damien, a recruit with a medical background who is a reluctant convert to the revolutionary cause. Driven by a deep sense of duty and a love for his country, Damien abandons his burgeoning career as a doctor just as he was about to set forth for London and joins his brother, Teddy (Padraic Delaney), in a dangerous and violent fight to shake off the shackles.

As the freedom fighters' audacious tactics bring the British to the breaking point, both sides finally agree to a treaty to end the bloodshed. But despite the apparent victory, civil war erupts and families who fought side by side find themselves pitted against one another as sworn enemies, putting their loyalties to the ultimate test as brother literally fights brother. The anguish and dilemmas faced by the main characters are at times almost unbearably painful to watch.

It is heartening to see the veteran Loach receiving just recognition for a work that ranks alongside his finest, in particular his take on the Spanish Civil War, Land and Freedom, made in 1995, and also the earlier Hidden Agenda (1990), which was about British intelligence operatives in Northern Ireland. Distributor: IFC First Take
Cast: Cillian Murphy, Liam Cunningham, Padraic Delaney, Orla Fitzgerald, Damien Kearney and Myles Horgan
Director: Ken Loach
Screenwriter: Paul Laverty
Producer: Rebecca O'Brien
Genre: Historical drama
Rating: Not rated
Running time: 126 min.
Release date: March 16, 2007 ltd

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