The Wind that Shakes the Barley opens on a group of young men joyfully playing a game of hurling. After the game has ended we watch them return home to their modest houses. Some are still standing together smoking and talking, when all of a sudden a group of British soldiers approaches out of nowhere confronting them with the fact that they did break the law. Meetings are strictly forbidden and even a game of hurling is considered to be an assemly and thus a possible act of rebellion. The scene heats up immediately when the young men answer in Gaelic upon being asked their names. The episode ends in a blood bath, one of the young men being beaten to a pulp and dead.
This is shocking. One can hardly believe one’s eyes since this is no invention. The British subjugated the Irish fiercely and anything resembling rebellion from their side ended in severe punishment.
Ken Loach´s movie The Wind that Skakes the Barley (the title is taken from an Irish Ballad) embraces both moments in Irish history, first The Irish War of Independence and then The Irish Civil War. At the core of the story that is set in county Cork are the two O´Donovan brothers, Damien (Cillian Murphy) and Teddy (Pádraic Delaney). At the onset of the war Damien is about to leave his native Ireland for London where a position as a doctor at a hospital is waiting for him. Seeing the brutality and the cruelty his people face and knowing that his brother will be leading a guerilla party, he stays to join them. At that time the British government sent the so-called “Black and Tans” to brutally reinforce their power. The old IRA started to strike back.
After long months of heavy fighting they were asked to sign a treaty which would guarantee the Irish their own government and established the Irish Free State. However six Northern counties would stay within the United Kingdom as Northern Ireland. This is the moment when the Civil War erupts and Pro Free State (headed by Michael Collins) troops fought the Anti-treaty forces. In the movie the tragedy unfolds as the brothers go different ways. Teddy accepts and supports the Free State while Damien wants to fight until all of Ireland is free. He believes that they have fought in vain if they give up now. It is unbelievable but the Civil War cost finally more lives than the War of Independence.
The Wind that Shakes the Barley was as hard to watch and as depressing as L´armée des ombres. The methods applied resemble those applied by the French Resistance. They wouldn’t even shy away from killing their own in the event of betrayal. We also see people being shot and people being tortured.
This movie is also hard to watch since it reveals a really ugly aspect of the British Empire. If you are British this will be hard to accept, if you like the British it will be equally hard and if you are Irish this will truly infuriate you. One can simply not understand why the Empire had to make the already impoverished, famished and sick Irish suffer so much. I read that this part of their history is not really taught in English schools. I think many English people would be shocked and astonished when they see this and might understand a lot better what was ultimately behind the Troubles.
The Wind that Shakes the Barley is very intense. The pictures of the beautiful, lush green countryside contrast starkly with the brutalities depicted. The story of the two brothers who end up torn apart by their conflicting ideals is very tragic. and both actors do a great job
There is no doubt that this movie deserved the Palme d´ Or it won in 2006. Even though I am sure the movie could not cover all the aspects and the whole complexity of the Wars, it raises the awareness. It´s simply stated a brilliant movie. But it is not entertaining for one second. Harsh but recommended viewing really.