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The Wind That Shakes The Barley [DVD]
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Political drama from veteran British filmmaker Ken Loach. Damien (Cillian Murphy) is about to leave Ireland for his medical studies in London while his brother Teddy (Padraic Delaney) is an active IRA member. After witnessing an act of resistance to the daily violence of the 'Black and Tans', Damien abandons his burgeoning career and joins his brother in a dangerous and violent fight for freedom. Eventually, both sides 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.
Winner of the Palme d'Or at the 2006 Cannes Film Festival, this gripping drama by Ken Loach (Raining Stones) is set during the early days of the Irish Republican Army, when British occupation of the Irish radicalised many a citizen and caused some to take up arms. Cillian Murphy plays Damien, a medical student on his way to London when he witnesses a couple of atrocities committed by British troops. Instead of becoming a doctor, he turns into a leading and respected figure in an IRA division led by his brother, Teddy (Padraic Delaney).The film provides some fascinating historical insight into the nascent resistance movement as it was in 1920, and Loach brilliantly conveys the profound emotional transition young men had to make to become saboteurs and killers. Loach's realistic style is absolutely mesmerizing, with many scenes built around the dynamics of large groups: contentious meetings, torture sessions, battles, celebrations, and the like. One has the sense of history as a pool of energy, and one also develops a kind of Renoir-esque appreciation for the fact that different people on opposing sides of a life-or-death issue have their reasons for believing what they believe. As the story moves along, subtle shifts in the perspectives of men and women who had once agreed to be absolute in their fight for freedom results in a tragic yet understandable schism among Irish patriots. The final half-hour of The Wind That Shakes The Barley says a lot about how the Irish, including people who had known one another all their lives, turned their wrath on one another for so many decades. This is an outstanding film, featuring the best performance yet by Murphy (Red Eye). --Tom Keogh
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First off a few words about the two-disc edition: Disc one contains the feature film and an optional feature length commentary by director Ken Loach and historical advisor for the film Donal O'Driscoll, a history lecturer at the University of Cork. Disc two contains a trailer, a photo gallery, and a 45 minute featurette about Ken Loach. This latter is interesting for fans of the director, and while it does feature this particular film and several snippets from interviews with Cillian Murphy, it is not exclusively dedicated to it.
The film is Ken Loach's Palme d'Or winning film about the struggle for Irish independence. Initially the Irish are fighting fighting the British forces, trying to drive them out of Ireland, but when the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921 is signed, it drives a wedge between the Irish themselves. Loach depicts this very cleverly and clearly by choosing to tell story of two brothers, Damien (Cillian Murphy) and Teddy (Pádraic Delaney), one an ardent IRA member, the other more reluctant until he witnesses several atrocities of the British forces at close quarters. After the treaty, these two brothers find themselves on opposite sides, Teddy accepting the terms of the freestate pledging allegiance to the King, Damien bitterly opposed to it and determined to fight on for an independent Irish republic.
The acting is very good all round, with Cillian Murphy giving one of his most compelling performances ever. Also worth a special mention is Liam Cunningham. The cinemtography is breathtaking and the picture quality of the DVD does it full justice. The only small criticism I have is that the sound level of the dialogue is at times so low as to make it impossible to understand it. This is not a problem of the particular DVD I purchased, I have noticed the same when watching the film on TV. Fortunately there are optional subtitles available for those who need them. They may also come in handy for viewers who have trouble with the Irish accents. For those who don't, the soft Cork accents are a real bonus and add a some valuable local colour.
Not an easy film to watch with its scenes of violence and executions, but worth persevering.