Last night we watched "The Wind That Shakes The Barley," a film by one of my favourite directors, Ken Loach. Like many of Loach's films, this is about a people's struggle for independence and freedom, in this case the Irish fight to overthrow British rule. It won the Palme d'Or at Cannes last year, and was probably Loach's most popular movie to date.
Although I have no ancestral connection to Ireland, I was obsessed with Ireland and Irish history for a good 15 years. The fascination abated when we finally went to Ireland in 2001, an ordinary trip for some, perhaps, but a dream for me. So a Ken Loach movie about Ireland is a natural for me.
You could say my recommendation is as one-sided as the film. Loach isn't there to give you so-called balance. As the infamous Black and Tans - the mercenaries the British hired to terrorize and control the Irish population - break into homes, humiliate families, destroy property, torture and kill, it was obvious Loach made this movie at this time for a very specific reason.
Pick your parallel - US to Iraq, Israel to Palestinians - it's impossible to miss the similarities. What is an insurgent? Who is a terrorist, and who a freedom fighter? Is it possible for ordinary working people to fight a mighty empire without resorting to violence? Is violence sometimes justified, and necessary? "The Wind That Shakes The Barley" leaves little doubt as to how the writer and director answer those questions, and I have to say I agree with their answers.
Screenwriter Paul Laverty is very adept at teasing out various political stances without having characters make stilted speeches. A political meeting seems very natural and unforced; I learned a few more things about the battle for Irish independence.
Loach is not one to offer Hollywood platitudes, and the film's ending is heart-wrenching. But the Irish people won their battle. Northern Ireland, obviously, remained a terrible flashpoint. But for centuries, a free and independent nation of Ireland was only a dream. Now it exists.