After a lukewarm critical reception at Cannes, an out-of-the-blue Palme d’Or win, and knee-jerk accusations that the film is anti-patriotic and pro-IRA, Ken Loach‘s "The Wind That Shakes the Barley" opened in the UK on Friday to both praise and a caveat-encumbered dance around what is indisputably a highly unflattering view of the British at that time.
Sukhdev Sandhu in the Telegraph places the film in "a noble and very English tradition of dissent that
reaches back past Cobbett and Defoe right through to William Langland." Jonathan Romney at the Independent is more measured, allowing that:
While few of Loach’s regular viewers would have problems accepting his views on the Spanish Civil War or Nicaragua, it’s harder for the average liberal broadsheet reader to accept unquestioningly this film’s presentation of the heroism of the early IRA and the brutality of British forces in Ireland in 1920. And whether or not the portrayal of British violence is accurate, the question that a critic must ask – at the risk of seeming a bourgeois aesthete – is whether this portrayal is dramatically effective.
Romney, attempting to approach "The Wind That Shakes the Barley" purely from a cinematic perspective (and coming up with a strange and apologetic review), finally concludes that "This is Loach’s most provocative film in ages, and it’s also among his most dramatically compelling. And it is so for reasons that transcend the strict limits of its argument: Loach might question the terms of this analysis, but if ‘The Wind That Shakes the Barley’ demands to be seen, it’s as much for its poetics as for its politics."
Mark Kermode in the Observer takes a similar approach, first noting Barry Ackroyd‘s lovely cinematography, then going on to commend the film (which he calls "more melancholic than defiant") while noting that "one can and, indeed, should argue about the politics." Peter Bradshaw at the Guardian gives the film three stars out of five, and writes that "[t]he film’s final cadences are ones of misery and bitterness and rage, and all this, coupled with what is sometimes a slightly inert dramatic language, do not make for an easy watch. But it is a finely made, finely acted piece of work."
At the London Times, James Christopher is ecstatic:
This is Loach at his creative and inflammatory best. The scale of his historical thriller about the armed struggle to get the British out of Ireland in the early decades of the 20th century dwarfs anything the veteran director has attempted before. The budget barely extends beyond brown tweeds and flat-caps, but the ambition is awesome. If anger fuels Loachâ€™s best work, he exceeds himself here. His view of the colonial Brits as greedy, swaggering sadists is unhindered by a single complimentary frame. The controversy is as ripe as rotten stilton, and Loachâ€™s critics are up in arms.
Still no word on a US distributor for the film, alas.
+ Powerful – but never preachy (Telegraph)
+ The Wind That Shakes the Barley (15) (Independent)
+ Another cry for freedom (Observer)
+ The Wind That Shakes the Barley (Guardian)
+ The Wind that Shakes the Barley (London Times)