“‘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.’”
This title song follows a scene in which the infamous Black and Tan squads of England kill an Irish teenager. The young Irish man “wouldn’t say his name in English” and meets his death as a result of his stubbornness. After the young man’s death, the other men of the village unite to fight for Irish freedom through the Irish Republican Army. But even after England makes a truce to the Irish to withhold from violence, the Irish are torn apart in civil war. There are those who stand by the new free state of the English and those who will not stop fighting until all of Ireland gains total freedom. This civil war continued for generations.
The film feels tremendously authentic for most of its two hours, and it even manages to entertain the audience throughout. However, the extent of its authenticity is lost in the end when the film begins to feel more theatrical and similar to past epics we’ve all seen.
Whether or not to ignore scenes that seem so clich? in Ken Loach’s film may be some viewers’ greatest challenge, largely because Loach succeeds in producing some incredibly moving moments as well. There is one scene in which Cillian Murphy is forced to kill a boy who has exposed the IRA’s position that will bring some viewers to tears and ignite anger in others. The scene is powerful and unsettling but is followed shortly thereafter by a conversation between Murphy and his “girlfriend,” something that has been done a hundred times in theaters.
Undoubtedly, viewers will find great pleasure in watching Murphy, who is quite the chameleon. He has played a nemesis of Batman, a terrorist, a transvestite and a victim of zombies. However, his role in “The Wind that Shakes the Barley” certainly seems to have called for his greatest emotional range. Although Murphy is portrayed as the “brains” of the IRA in the film, he still comes off as the most unrelenting member, and as his passion grows for the freedom of Ireland, so does the audiences respect for him. With Murphy’s acting, you can literally feel the ardent spirit of the Irish. It is as if Murphy personifies the struggle itself. Even though he’s a name only a few recognize, Murphy deserves a place among Hollywood’s gifted young actors.
By its conclusion, the film feels like it is missing something. Loach has stated that he hoped his audience “would share the feelings of the people who are forced to do terrible things that they feel are justified.” But the British oppression and provocation are nearly absent in the film. There are a few scenes that illustrate the cruelty of the Black and Tan squads but not enough to make any viewer choose a side after the truce is signed. The IRA committed mass murders, which some may feel was justified and others not. Although the Irish Revolution was undoubtedly an important piece of history, Loach doesn’t offer anything that audiences don’t already know or haven’t already seen.