Tuesday, June 27, 2006

The Wind that Shakes the Barley

I've no time to write this up as carefully as I'd like to at the moment, but I'd urge you to go and see Ken Loach's "The Wind that Shakes the Barley".

It's a powerful story well delivered. I'd question whether it is good history accurately told.

Like a lot of good authors (Brian Moore and Graham Greene particularly spring to mind) Loach knows that - if you locate a moment of crisis - a story will not be far away.

One of his signature dishes is the dramatisation of revolutionary situations. In Land and Freedom, he offers a debate about common ownership during the Spanish Civil War.

In The Wind that Shakes the Barley, however, this is taken further. There are two notable set-piece discussions - one on pragmatism over principle, and another in which the treaty is discussed.

There's one question that occurs to me that I don't have an answer for.

In these scenes, Loach manages to get an rare emotional intensity from his actors. It makes for electrifying drama. But does it offer a fair representation of what really happened? And does this device serve to shed light on the situation, or to mislead viewers?

One aspect that isn't apparent to the viewer is the effect on the silent onlookers. In a situation in which the more articulate players are drunk on their own rhetoric and polarising the room, what about the silent doubters? How does a film represent those that can see the catastrophe coming, (and as sure as a dog has a dick, it came) but are unable to make the case?

Whatever your answer, in these debates, the unavoidable question to the viewer is "which side would you be on"? And having read a good deal about this period, my answer while watching this film is different to the one I'd take after a longer view of the literature.

The other (related) question I'd have is about how far this ground-level of perspective is instructive? In the situations as portrayed in Loach's film, I'd like to think that I would have had the courage to take the republican position. (I expect cowardice would have lead me elsewhere).

But Loach's portrayal of Irish republicanism is simply not an accurate one. From the ground level, all that you can see is a response to the brutality of the Black and Tans. What you don't see much of is the way that Irish Republicanism synthesised in the years between 1916 and the treaty. We are treated to the usual story of left-wing principles betrayed - a plainly dishonest characterisation of the IRA and circumstances they found themselves in.*

Loach has suggested (in interviews) that there are parallels with the situation in Iraq. Aside from parallels between the way the 'Tans brutalised a population in search of 'insurgents', I can't see this myself.

If I took one lesson from the film, however, it would be about what happens when nationalists and socialists form an alliance. In Ireland, it has repeatedly proven disastrous for socialists - and murderous for anyone who has found themselves in the vicinity.

So, alongside a recommenndation to go and see this fictional recreation, I'd also urge you to read Roddy Doyle's 'A Star Called Henry'** - a very different fictional rendition of republicanism - and one with an entertaining set-piece of it's own.

*the best history of the IRA that I've seen - particularly covering 'social republicanism' is Henry Patterson's 'Politics of Illusion'

** I know! Roddy Doyle! I read his Barrytown Trilogy (Commitments / Van / Snapper) and thought "never again". But 'A Star Called Henry' is a great read.

1 comment:

Emma said...

Thought this film was decent, but could have done with being shorter.