Monday, June 19, 2006

British media critics' reaction to Ken Loach's film about the Irish struggle for independence shows little has changed regarding attitudes to Ireland

Paul Donovan:

Winner of the Palme d'Or at the Cannes film festival, The Wind that Shakes the Barley has been described as anti-British.

It would be difficult to see how a film of this period in Irish history could be anything other than anti-British if it was to in any way reflect the truth. What was Loach supposed to do depict the Black and Tans as peacekeepers?

What Loach has done is again produce a film that asks searching questions, particularly of the British state, for what it did during that period. The film, though, also depicts the terrible waste of life of the civil war. Loach is not a sentimental film maker but one who holds up a mirror to the truth so that others can learn from history.

The best guage as to the merits of a film about Ireland is usually the amount of vitriol it attracts from the British media. Loach has always passed this test. His previous film, Hidden Agenda, on the conflict in the north stirred controversy, drawing together a script based on the Stalker affair and the Clockwork Orange plot against the Wilson and Heath governments. It was remarkable over the years how often the film got pulled at the last moment because of some real atrocity that had occurred at the time. Perhaps this censorship was due to how close Loach had got to the truth about past happenings.

Other films that have stirred controversy include Neil Jordan's Michael Collins and Jim Sheridan's Some Mothers Son. Earlier still, Kenneth Griffith's film Hang out Your Brightest Colours: The Life and Death of Michael Collins (1972), was banned by the Independent Broadcasting Authority on the basis that it was "an incitement to disorder." It was finally shown on 13 August 1994 as part of ITV's 25 Bloody Years season. A later film Curious Journey featuring interviews with those who'd fought in 1916 did not receive a viewing until 1980 at the London Film Festival.

The power though of any good filmaker is to not only depict historic events in a dramatic way but to strike a resonance with the audience about contemporary life. The Griffiths films were controversial because although they drew together the events of the war for independence with the later conflict of the time in the north of Ireland.

So too with Loach, who has told how he tries to draw comparison between the occupied 1920s Ireland and Iraq today. The situations are obviously different but to the native populations in both countries the British army have been seen as an occupying force. The historical parallels can be over done but do exist. If Loach's film can not only stir some of the historical amnesia of the British public relating to Irish history but also provide a lesson on the futility of continuing to occupy Iraq it will be a fine work indeed. Let's hope the film gets a wide distribution in the UK, not just being seen in areas where the Irish diaspora dwell.


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