A review of “The Wind that Shakes the Barley” by Jeanne Aufmuth

Stars: ***

Rating: Not Rated but could be R for relentless brutality and violence

Run Time: 2 hours, 7 minutes

 

 

Human and political drama makes dramatic bedfellows in Ken Loach’s Cannes award-winning ode to Ireland’s plucky past.

          Cillian Murphy turns in a typically smart performance as idealistic doctor Damien O’Donovan who is leaving his sleepy Irish village to take work at a London hospital.

          County Cork in the 1920s is at a tetchy political juncture; the Irish bristling over waning but omnipresent British rule and tempers flaring on both sides.

          A run-in with British “peacekeeping” troops, aka the Black and Tans, alters the landscape for good. During a routine inspection the contentious Brits take offense at the Irish’s courageous calm and beat one of Damien’s chums to death. An act, among others, that inspires Damien to chuck his career path and enlist in a guerilla group that ultimately evolves into the Irish Republican Army.

          Damien’s activist brother Teddy (Padraic Delaney) is fronting the militant faction; one of many players who endures Loach’s relentless scenes of gross brutality; beatings, fingernail torture, point-blank shootings, etc.

          As Britain and Ireland bitterly fall away so does the chasm between brothers. The Anglo-Irish Peace Agreement, ostensibly created to make Ireland a free dominion within the British Empire, does more damage than good, turning brother against brother as Damien converts to over-zealous patriot and Teddy’s rabid rebellion loses steam.

          Loach doesn’t miss a beat in establishing a moral high ground in the struggle for independence; the Irish are victims and we suffer alongside them by virtue of lengthy stretches of dark dialogue and ethical indignities meant to arouse dread and inspire compassion.

          The British troops are disappointingly one-note, not a hair of empathy on their haughty heads as they lord British rule over their humiliated country cousins.

          That said, Loach still manages to craft a noble historical valentine to the gracious Gaels; alternately winsome and sadistic but always with an eye on the prize: freedom.