The Wind That Shakes The Barley (2006)

The Wind That Shakes The Barley (2006)

An unflinching and poignant movie about revolution and all its messy, brutal consequences

The Very Best



Belgium, France
English, Irish, Latin
Drama, War
Aidan O'Hare, Antony Byrne, Cillian Murphy
127 min


The Daily Mail gave it a scathing review on release, so you know it’s probably good.

What it's about

In 1920s Ireland, a medical student abandons his training and joins the IRA when British forces commit atrocities in his village.

The take

You might expect a movie about the Irish struggle for independence from the British Empire during the 1920s to be a sweeping historical epic a la Braveheart, but The Wind That Shakes The Barley is instead a heartbreaking miniature portrait of the human impact that the brutal occupation has on the residents of a small County Cork village. Cillian Murphy is superb as Damien O’Donovan, a young medical student who is about to up sticks for London when he witnesses first-hand the savagery of British forces on his neighbors. Galvanized into action, he joins the local branch of the IRA, which is led by his brother Teddy (Pádraic Delaney).

What makes The Wind That Shakes The Barley so potent isn’t just its depiction of the fierce local rebellion that Damien and his comrades wage against the British forces — it’s also its gutting exploration of the cyclical war that began to rage amongst the freedom fighters once the British left. As Damien puts it, “It's easy to know what you're against, quite another to know what you're for” — a dilemma that wedges the two brothers apart to bitter ends.

What stands out

There was uproar in some sections of the British press when The Wind That Shakes The Barley won the Palme d’Or at the 2006 Cannes Film Festival, but despite detractors’ assumptions, Loach’s famous politics don’t blinker the film. Rather than a wholesale lionization of the revolutionaries’ actions, the movie explores the brutality that the occupation infects the freedom fighters with, as well as the lingering divide-and-conquer consequences the guerrilla war has on their internal unity. In its willingness to grapple with the ugly nuances of revolution, The Wind That Shakes The Barley proves itself an intelligent and undeniably powerful film.


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