The Wind That Shakes the Barley


Robin Clifford of Reeling Reviews
Robin Clifford 
The Wind That Shakes the Barley
Laura Clifford of Reeling Reviews
Laura Clifford 

In 1920 Ireland, the seeds of independence, sown over hundreds of years, have finally blossomed into full scale rebellion. Damien O’Donovan (Cillean Murphy), a recent medical school graduate, is about to move to London to begin his practice. But, when he is eye witness to murder and savage abuse by the dreaded paramilitary police, the Black and Tans, he gives himself to Ireland and the cause for independence in The Wind That Shakes the Barley.”

Robin:
In 1920 Ireland, the seeds of independence, sown over hundreds of years, have finally blossomed into full scale rebellion. Damien O’Donovan (Cillean Murphy) is a recent medical school graduate about to move to London to begin his practice. But, when he is eye witness to murder and savage abuse by the dreaded British paramilitary army, the Black and Tans, he gives himself to Ireland and the cause for independence in “The Wind That Shakes the Barley.”

Director Ken Loach cloaks a history lesson in the garb of a gripping, action-packed political and personal drama about rebellion and two brothers, at ever-changing odds over their individual beliefs of freedom for Ireland, it impacts. The story begins, innocently, as a group of young Irishmen play field hockey just before Damien packs off for London. As they finish and walk home, a troop of Black and Tans assault them, with their fouled mouth sergeant hurling abuses and demanding their names and occupations. When one of the mates, only 17, answers in Gallic, refusing to speak English to his oppressors, he is summarily and brutally executed.

Damien, sobered by the experience, still plans to emigrate to Britain and prepares to board a train to take him away. Another contingent of British troopers arrives and demands to board the train. Their request” is rejected by the driver and conductor, citing union rules, and Damien watches as they are badly beaten. This is the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back for the young medico and he joins the Irish Republican Army. This begins the story of the Irish struggle for freedom and independence from Great Britain.

Director Ken Loach and company have done their homework in putting together an accurate account of the struggle for Ireland’s independence. Using an escalating, violent series of set pieces, they depict the struggle from the continued oppression of the Irish by the British army to the IRA retaliations for the Black and Tan malfeasances that fan the flames of rebellion. The violence is abrupt and bloody with one side, the guerrilla IRA, fighting for the cause and the Brits trying to keep this tiny part of their dwindling empire.

Cillian Murphy is the only actor in this large ensemble cast to have any household name status here in the US. But, he is just one of the many characters given full shrift in this stirring story of epic proportions that spans a scant two years. The cast of unknown actors richly fill their roles from the heinous sergeant from the beginning of the film to the IRA soldiers training their men to fight. Murphy may have head billing but he is just first among equals in The Wind That Shakes the Barley.”

Besides paying great attention to the historical details of the Irish struggle for freedom, Loach et al also attend to the accuracy of the period sets, costumes and, notably to the gun buff in me, the weapons used in the Fenian fight for freedom. The money spent in the production is up there on the screen for all to see and appreciate.

The Wind That Shakes the Barley” won’t likely draw huge audiences but, with its rich detail and first rate performances, it should pull in the discriminating filmgoer who is looking intelligent, thought-provoking entertainment. And, you get a fascinating, well-told history lesson to boot. I give it a B+.

Laura:
Laura also gives "The Wind that Shakes the Barley" a B+.
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