Continuing the all-Irish theme, I caught The Wind That Shakes the Barley after the Bloomsday festivities on Saturday. The film stars Cillian Murphy and Pádraic Delaney as brothers who fought together in the Irish War of Independence only to find themselves on different sides of the civil war that followed.
Obviously, it’s an absolutely serious film, with grim subject matter, and a real sense of foreboding immediately confronts the viewer. Indeed, as soon as you (quickly) start caring about the characters, and you do, you realize that they can’t all survive, either physically or morally. Understandably, and probably justifiably, the British come across in all this as grotesque, evil stereotypes. Still, despite (or perhaps even because of) that, the most effective parts of the film are the earliest scenes documenting the brothers’ involvement in the horrific, violent guerrilla-style effort against the British. Director Ken Loach well tells the story of British oppression and the dangerous, desperate fight undertaken by the Irish in reaction.
Where the film falters is in showing how and why the brothers ultimately end up on different sides of the political spectrum. After the Anglo-Irish Treaty was signed in 1921, the peaceful brother, a physician played by Murphy, becomes the more radical of the two. He had been the reluctant fighter, dragged into the guerrilla fight only because British violence absolutely surrounded him. His continuing trajectory into greater radicalism sort of makes sense. The political path taken by the other brother, played by Delaney, is completely baffling, however. Having been the original firebrand, he somehow becomes the pragmatist—desperate to make the post-Treaty Irish Free State work as a British(!) dominion. For that matter, the entire post-Treaty political situation is so poorly explained by The Wind That Shakes the Barley that I needed to brush up on my Irish history after the film. (And I probably know more about Irish history than the typical non-Irish viewer.)
Still, I’d recommend The Wind That Shakes the Barley. It’s beautifully filmed and well-acted, and I can see how it won the Palme d’Or at Cannes. That said, I don’t think it deserves some of the rave reviews, including this one from one of my favorite reviewers, that it has received. It’s a good film, but it’s not the great, definitive film about the Irish struggle.
On a four-star scale, I’d give The Wind That Shakes the Barley two-and-a-half or maybe three stars.