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This isn't an Oirish "Braveheart"
on 25 June 2007
Some reviewers seem to have missed the point. Ken Loach doesn't make Hollywood-style "history for popcorn-munchers" entertainment. He assumes a basic knowledge of the period in question, and then explores specific political questions. If anyone saw "Land and Freedom" before "Barley", they would not be at all suprised that Loach chose to focus on the tensions/contradictions between the fight for self-determination on the one hand, and the kind of state those fighters were aiming for. This scenario is expressed by the relationship between Damian (an advocate of James Connolly's Marxist vision of a workers' republic) and his brother, who (for lack of a broader political vision) sees himself as more of a realist, dealing with the "here and now". It is no accident that the relationships between Damian/Rory and Damian/Sinead are given such prominence. Some reviewers have criticised the acting: Loach famously encourages improvisation, and often uses "imperfect" takes in his final cut, precisely in order to convey the message that history is not all heroic poses and sweeping soundtracks. The same goes for the action scenes: anyone with experience of armed conflict knows that military engagements can very often be confused, random and inconsequential (i.e. not always like Peter O'Toole charging forward on his camel). All in all, I found the film to be intelligent, insightful, very moving, and therefore an excellent piece of cinema.