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A brutal, sad, powerful film of the Irish rebellion in the Twenties

  • Apr 18, 2011
Ireland in the early Twenties exploded into armed rebellion against the British. In The Wind That Shakes the Barley, two brothers at first made opposite decisions. A group of Black and Tan British soldiers arrive at a farm where the brothers and a group of other young men are resting after a hurling game. The British terrorize everyone there, the men, the women, the aged and the young. They beat and kill one man for refusing to give his name in English. When they roar off, one brother, Teddy (Padraic Delaney), immediately helps form the men into armed resistors. Damien (Cillian Murphy), a medical student, decides to go on to London to a prestigious medical school where he is has enrolled to finish his studies. At the train station he witnesses another group of soldiers attack and beat the train's conductor and engineer. The attacks are filled with screams and rifle butts. Damien returns to the village and joins the armed resistors.
From then on we're in the middle of a rag-tag guerilla war, driven by a stern sense of justice and a determination to force the British out of Ireland. The British use wide-spread intimidation, brutality, imprisonment and executions by courts martial. Some of the men we've met die, British soldiers die, hostages die, traitors die, a young friend of Damien's who gave information is executed by Damien. He slowly moves from a reluctant fighter to a man who has become single-minded in what he does. When a truce is declared and a peace treaty is finally agreed upon in 1922 between the British Government and Sinn Fein, the stark reality of compromise splits the fighters. On the one hand, there will be an Irish Free State with British troops withdrawn. On the other hand, it will be a member of the British Commonwealth, an oath of allegiance to the British crown will be required and Northern Ireland will remain an integral part of Britain. Is this what we fought for...to give allegiance to the British, many ask? What we fought for was independence and in most regards we have it, say others. Ireland must be whole, say some. If we don't agree the British will flood the island with their troops, say others. We watch a civil war begin, with Irishmen taking up arms and killing each other. For the brothers, who once fought the British together, it means a crucial split. One fights to put down the rebellion against the newly independent Irish state, the other vows to fight until all Ireland is completely free.
One critic of the film said that "there isn't much nuance to either side." That's probably because, nurtured by terrible actions and long memories, there wasn't much nuance in real life. The Wind That Shapes the Barley is a sad, powerful and emotional film. It doesn't shy away from the brutality and torture by British soldiers or the ruthlessness of the armed response. Most of all, we come face to face with both the courage and the grime needed by the Irish to finally, after centuries of ruthless, condescending oppression, rid most of the island of the British. The acting is uniformly persuasive, especially by Murphy and Delaney as the two brothers. Cillian Murphy, in particular gives a subtle and mesmerizing performance. The brothers' fate may not be tragic but it is so sad it makes you reflect on what you've seen. That's not a bad thing. Each brother in his own way pays for the choices he makes.
And the title? It's from a 19th Century poem that tells of a young Irish boy who soon will leave his sweetheart to join others fighting the English in the 1798 rebellion. They would carry barley in their pockets as provisions on the march. When they were slain and their bodies pitched into unmarked mass graves by the English, from their bodies the sprouting barley came to symbolise that Irish resistance to the British would never die.
I sat within the valley green, I sat me with my true love
My sad heart strove the two between, the old love and the new love
The old for her, the new that made me think on Ireland dearly
While soft the wind blew down the glen and shook the golden barley
'Twas hard the woeful words to frame to break the ties that bound us
But harder still to bear the shame of foreign chains around us
And so I said, "The mountain glen I'll seek at morning early
And join the bold united men," while soft winds shake the barley
While sad I kissed away her tears, my fond arms round her flinging
A yeoman's shot burst on our ears from out the wildwood ringing
A bullet pierced my true love's side in life's young spring so early
And on my breast in blood she died while soft winds shook the barley
I bore her to some mountain stream, and many's the summer blossom
I placed with branches soft and green about her gore-stained bosom
I wept and kissed her clay-cold corpse then rushed o'er vale and valley
My vengeance on the foe to wreak while soft wind shook the barley
But blood for blood without remorse I've taken at Oulart Hollow
And laid my true love's clay cold corpse where I full soon may follow
As round her grave I wander drear, noon, night and morning early
With breaking heart when e'er I hear the wind that shakes the barley.
A brutal, sad, powerful film of the Irish rebellion in the Twenties A brutal, sad, powerful film of the Irish rebellion in the Twenties A brutal, sad, powerful film of the Irish rebellion in the Twenties A brutal, sad, powerful film of the Irish rebellion in the Twenties

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April 18, 2011
wow! You have such a way with words. Outstanding review!!
More The Wind That Shakes the Barle... reviews
review by . January 02, 2008
I liked this film, although it wasn't perfect. It was well done, by an all Irish cast, filmed on location, or close to it, and fairly true to history for a piece of fiction. The brutality and the bitterness of the conflict are done realistically, although the violence is not glorified. Nonetheless, I found parts of the film rather dry, and it was longer than it needed to be. That detracted from my emotional involvement with the characters.     The story is a good one, and the …
review by . September 13, 2007
Pros: Decent acting      Cons: Everything else      The Bottom Line: I will reiterate the last line in the review: Finally I just didn't care.      Plot Details: This opinion reveals minor details about the movie''s plot.      The Wind that Shakes the Barley covers two parts of the struggle for the Northern Irish to gain their own state. So it is a political film.      The movie begins …
review by . May 07, 2007
posted in Movie Hype
'The Wind That Shakes the Barley' transports us to its setting like few movies do. Like a taste of Ireland's Guinness Beer, the movie makes a strong impression that leaves a long aftertaste. Screenwriter Paul Laverty and Director Ken Loach take us to Ireland in 1920 when modern tensions met an apex. Brothers Damien (Cillian Murphy) and Paddy (Padriac Delaney) form with others, working with the IRA and political group, Sein Finn, to bring Ireland to independence. From the start a stark contrast is …
About the reviewer
C. O. DeRiemer ()
Ranked #32
Since I retired in 1995 I have tried to hone skills in muttering to myself, writing and napping. At 75, I live in one of those places where one moves from independent living to hospice. I expect to begin … more
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