The Blanket

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent

The Wind That Shakes the Barley

Film Review


Anthony McIntyre The Vacuum

It has been dismissed as a propaganda film and its director Ken Loach portrayed as a Leni Riefenstahl. Nevertheless, Loach seemed unperturbed. In promoting The Wind That Shakes the Barley he claimed that 'partition had failed … the unionist veto on change must be removed.' The irony is that despite Eoghan Harris's claim that this film can be used as propaganda by Sinn Fein, it actually constitutes a challenge to what Sinn Fein so fervently embraces - the modern 'Treaty' that is the Good Friday Agreement.

From my experience growing up in a working class nationalist community where self-identity post-1970 was formed in opposition to British troops on the streets, there was little that struck me as controversial. The opening scenes of British soldiers taking a young man 'out the back' and brutally murdering him, or their clubbing a train driver into the ground, resonates deeply of a myriad of similar incidents that occurred during the 1970s. The same violence, accents, arrogance, threats, contempt and racism were a defining feature of Ted Heath's 'squaddies'.

Loach made little attempt to explain the background to the war of independence that raged in Ireland from 1919 to 1921. He avoided everything that preceded, but crucially moulded the conditions in which that war was fought. His ahistorical starting point was the war itself and he illustrated how young men came to join the IRA, not out of any highly developed set of ideological beliefs but in direct response to British military repression on the streets. This is why the film chimes so strongly with the 'common sense' that many in the audiences grew up with in areas like West Belfast or the Bogside. When Dan Keating who fought against the British during the period covered by Loach said the film 'brought back old memories, all right', he spoke for more than his own generation.

If the foundational assumption that the British were wholly wrong went unexplored some of the more ideological cleavages that existed were expressed through the characters. Two of these have been the source of internal tensions throughout the long divisive lifespan of Irish republicanism: whether republicans should fight against the rich on behalf of the poor as part of the anti-British struggle; the compromising of the ideal of republicanism when it settles for an outcome that changes only the 'accents of the powerful and the colour of the flag.' Loach ensured that those articulating the grievances of the poor and opposing the compromises emerged on top intellectually.

Those critics who think Sinn Fein stand to gain from such a film have got it wrong. The republicans who will have genuine cause to cheer this film from beginning to end are those who believe that the prosecution of an armed campaign is legitimate until there is no British presence in Ireland; critics of Sinn Fein such as the Real or Continuity IRAs. The arguments made in defence of the Treaty by former IRA members who executed their erstwhile comrades who opposed it are exactly those made today in support of the Good Friday Agreement. Small wonder Dan Keating dismissed the Sinn Fein peace process as 'a joke.'

As I left the cinema I noticed a former fellow republican prisoner in the departing audience. Very much a supporter of the current Sinn Fein leadership strategy, he should not have made the journey back to West Belfast with his mind uncluttered by difficult issues. If he thought about it at all, this was a film that challenged all he held dear.





















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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



There is no such thing as a dirty word. Nor is there a word so powerful, that it's going to send the listener to the lake of fire upon hearing it.
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Index: Current Articles

7 November 2006

Other Articles From This Issue:

When It's Time for Change, No One Is Irreplaceable
Mick Hall

Date Fixed For Flawed Landmark Case
Michael McKevitt Justice Campaign

Souper Sinn Fein
Eoghan O'Suilleabhain

Dr John Coulter

St Andrews Agreement & 'the Left'
Davy Carlin

Shotgun Wedding
John Kennedy

...and to create the space for a diversity of views...
Noel Dolan

'Undo the Great Betrayal, Free the Occupied 26'
Dr John Coulter

The Wind That Shakes the Barley
Anthony McIntyre

Power & Powerlessness
Patricia Campbell

The Constantine Institute
Terry O'Neill

Mary Robinson Spotlights Human Rights Abuses in Darfur
William Hughes

Fearless Speech
Anthony McIntyre

30 October 2006

Granny Josie
Anthony McIntyre

Guardians of Perjury
Martin Galvin

Writing on the Wall
John Kennedy

The Litmus Test of Republicanism
Charlie Clarke

Monkey Business
Anthony McIntyre

Northern Invasion
Dr John Coulter

Eamon McGuire: The Life of an Undercover IRA Activist
William Hughes

Deal Will Underline Delusions
David Adams

Blood in the Water
Dr John Coulter

Muslims = Terrorists
M. Shahid Alam

Nothing Could Be More Offensive!
Maryam Namazie



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