- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 5, 2007

“The Wind That Shakes the Barley” is the title of a 19th-century Irish rebel song. The Irish have revolted against English rule for centuries, but it’s the Troubles of the early 20th century that have repeatedly found their way onto celluloid.

The latest in this genre, British filmmaker Ken Loach’s “The Wind That Shakes the Barley,” is a beautiful but brutal film. The brutality doesn’t just come from the British — although there is plenty of that. The Irish War of Independence provides just half the story here. The civil war that followed could be just as vicious, if not more so, pitting as it did Irishman against Irishman. Or as in “Barley,” brother against brother.

The savagery starts early and never lets up in “Barley,” which won the Palme d’Or at Cannes last year. A group of young men are enjoying some sport when they’re accosted by the Black and Tans, the British paramilitary forces sent to quell the independence movement. What might have been a routine check soon escalates when a 17-year-old boy is tortured because he refuses to speak in anything other than Gaelic. About 10,000 British soldiers are in Ireland; the witnesses to this crime vow to help drive them out.

All but one, that is: Damian O’Donovan (Cillian Murphy, “28 Days Later”). He’s set to leave the next day for London to further his medical career, despite his friends’ protests. However, witnessing some further mistreatment at the train station, he finds he can’t make the journey.

He enlists in the Irish Republican Army cell led by his brother Teddy (Padraic Delaney, “The Tudors”). They’re soon captured and jailed. Damian’s education soon makes him stand out, even there. He demands to be treated as a political prisoner. “No, you’re not,” a British officer responds. “You’re a murdering gangster who shoots young men in the back.”

“You’re wrong,” Damian responds. “I’m a democrat. In the last election, Sinn Fein won 73 seats out of a possible 105.”

Mr. Loach (“Bread and Roses”) is an intelligent, if controversial, filmmaker, and “Barley” is filled with not just brutality, but ideas. The British guard, nearly in tears, is almost convinced by Damian’s argument. He doesn’t want to kill Damian. “I’m just a soldier sent by my government,” he pleads.

Debate is even more important when a treaty is signed to establish an Irish Free State. Members of the new parliament will still swear allegiance to the British crown. Teddy believes compromise is the best the Irish can hope for; the radicalized Damian believes no man died fighting for compromise.

This intelligent guerrilla drama’s mix of the personal and political, in a script written by frequent Loach collaborator Paul Laverty, is just right. The fine cast also includes Orla Fitzgerald as Damian’s love and IRA messenger, Sinead. The film is all Mr. Murphy’s, however. The talented young Irish actor manages to communicate heady idealism that never becomes insufferable — just like Mr. Loach’s film itself.


TITLE: “The Wind That Shakes the Barley”

RATING: Not rated (frequent violence)

CREDITS: Directed by Ken Loach. Written by Paul Laverty.

RUNNING TIME: 127 minutes

WEB SITE: www.thewindthatshakesthebarley.co.uk


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