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Film / The Wind That Shakes the Barley

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"It's easy to know what you are against, but quite another to know what you are for."
Damien O'Donovan

A historical Irish film set in early 20th century Cork starring Cillian Murphy, Liam Cunningham and Pádraic Delaney, and directed by Ken Loach. The film opens in 1920. Ireland is struggling to find its way out of the British Empire and become an independent nation. All over the country Irish men and women are uniting to resist the ruthless "Black and Tan" squads who have been sent to quell any thought of full-scale rebellion. Among those making a stand are Damien and Teddy O'Donovan, two brothers who, driven by love for their country, join the IRA in the hopes of driving the British out of their country.

The violent guerrilla tactics of the IRA and revenge attacks from the security forces and Loyalists eventually result in a truce but when negotiations for peace between Ireland and Britain produce less than a full and united Irish Republic, the country is plunged into civil war, causing families who had fought side by side for an independent Ireland to turn against one another as enemies.

The film won the Palme d'Or in 2006, and despite a number of attacks due to its "controversial" content, was critically acclaimed. It was also praised for its historical accuracy, particularly in comparison with other films set around the same time period, such as Michael Collins.

The cover art you see is now featured on an Irish stamp.

Tropes evident in The Wind that Shakes the Barley include:

  • All for Nothing: the eventual 1921 Anglo-Irish Treaty allows six counties (Northern Ireland) to remain part of Britain whilst the other 26 (the Irish Free State) are granted a slightly enhanced degree of independence within the British Empire. The pro-Treaty side argue this is the best deal available and a return to war with Britain will spell inevitable defeat, the anti-Treaty side decry it as nothing more than the Irish Parliamentary Party could have gained peacefully if they had accepted the same terms as part of Home Rule Bill passed in 1912 (Ireland having been granted limited self-government within the British Empire with progressive independence in the same way as Canada, Australia, New Zealand etc). Civil war breaks out killing thousands.
  • Artistic License – History: The film was mildly controversial (though still critically well-regarded) in Ireland because of what some historians called Loach's attempt to make a Spanish Civil War film set in Ireland. In real life, the IRA split over the immediate issue of the Treaty, not along left-/right-wing lines, and people of either political persuasion could be found on both sides - while it's true most socialists were anti-Treaty (seeing it as giving in to British imperialism), it's not true that most "Irregulars" were socialists - the anti-Treaty forces were dominated by conservative nationalists and devout Catholics like Éamon de Valera. And while the Free State did use repressive measures against former comrades, it also maintained the rule of law throughout the Thirties when much of Europe turned to fascism and ostracised many who did embrace fascism enthusiastically.
  • Artistic License – Military: In Real Life, Irish soldiers do their foot drill in Irish, not English.
  • Big Brother Instinct: Teddy is hinted to be this way towards Damien.
  • Bilingual Bonus: Quite a few phrases as Gaeilge, including:
    • "Teddy O'Donavan is ainm dom." - "Teddy O'Donavan is my name."
  • Bilingual Dialogue: The film takes place in a period where Irish was mostly spoken as a first language by the older, rural population, but younger generations were taking a renewed interest in it and taking efforts to learn. This is shown when Michael gives his name in Irish at the beginning of the film and when Teddy identifies himself in Irish to make a political statement. When the main characters escape from prison and hide out in an elderly couple's cottage, the couple converse with them in Irish but they reply in English, which then prompts the couple to switch to broken English for the sake of the non-Irish soldier with them. In addition to this, urban Irish people sometimes resented Irish-speakers because they never had the opportunity to learn it properly, even if they might know some bits and pieces. This is best shown in the courtroom scene, where the elderly monolingual defendant declares "Níl fhios agam, ní thuigim" (I don't know, I don't understand) and the prosecutor contemptuously replies "What are you saying Níl fhios agam for? You know fine well!"
  • Bittersweet Ending
  • Cain and Abel: Teddy and Damien at the end.
  • Defector from Decadence: A Scottish soldier of Irish parentage pulls a Mook–Face Turn and joins the IRA after witnessing the brutal treatment of the Irish by the British state; a particularly twisted Secret Test of Character, a brutal interrogation session and the planned execution of a number of captured rebels are what pushes him over the edge.
  • Dirty Communists: Damien and Dan's socialist views receive this reaction from some, particularly a vehemently anti-communist parish priest. The film itself does not appear to endorse this sentiment, though, being much more sympathetic towards their left-wing views.
  • Face Death with Dignity: Both Chris and Sir John, when the order comes through to "execute the spies." Damien himself at the end, when he is executed.
  • Fingore: The Black and Tans interrogate one of the Irish rebels by pulling out his fingernails one-by-one with a pair of wicked-looking pliers (the real IRA member who alleged this, Tom Hales, was officially listed by British intelligence as an informer who invented the story as an excuse).
  • Grey-and-Gray Morality: After peace is declared those for and against both believe they have Ireland's best interests at heart.
  • The Hero Dies: Damien himself at the end.
  • He Who Fights Monsters:
    • To a certain extent, as Free State troops begin conducting the same aggressive searches for weapons the British carried out (less harshly, though.)
    • And the IRA themselves. In particular, the scene in which Damien shoots his lifelong friend Chris while the latter is tearfully asking him to tell his mother he loves her comes to mind.
  • Historical Hero Upgrade: The (especially Anti-Treaty) IRA, kind of. The film is ultimately sympathetic to them, and while it doesn't exactly gloss over the bad stuff they did, it does interpret several incidents in very controversial ways and sanitize some of it.
  • Historical Villain Upgrade: The British and the Free State definitely get this. The former not so much by outright falsehoods (some Black and Tans really did what they were portrayed as doing, and they were not alone) but because it was portrayed as widespread and a matter of policy (a serious matter of debate amongst historians) it seems to be the default British morality even outside the Black and Tans. And the Free State side is still portrayed with a bit of sympathy.
  • I Am Spartacus: At one point in the movie, Teddy, Damien and some other men from the IRA are captured by the Black and Tans. When they go to get Teddy for questioning/torturing, they ask who Teddy O'Donovan is; cue Damien immediately standing up and telling them that he is Teddy O'Donovan. But the trope is also subverted in a sense that no one else stands up to claim that they are Teddy, and unfortunately, the Black and Tans had a picture of Teddy so Damien's would-be self-sacrifice didn't really help.
  • Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique: See fingore above.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: Sir John is presented wholly negatively as a cliched Irish Unionist stereotype (his depiction causing outrage amongst the community who pointed out the IRA had been killing Unionists for years before the Black and Tans returned the favour). However his predictions that the eventual Irish Free State independent of Britian will become an oppressive, backward, impoverished country dictated to by the Catholic church come 100% true.
  • Kill the Ones You Love: And they start at it before the Civil War breaks out.
  • La Résistance: The IRA and later the Anti-Treaty IRA.
  • Mook–Face Turn: Johnny Gogan, the guard who had previously (under orders and not knowing the gun wasn't loaded) performed a mock execution of Damien, goes on to aid the release of the imprisoned IRA detachment. The revelation of his name and the Irish-Scots heritage which inspire him to undertake the rescue promote him to Mauve Shirt.
  • A Nazi by Any Other Name: The Black-and-Tans. Though they're not particularly fascist, their methods are no less barbaric and cruel, staging revenge attacks for IRA atrocities. Even many British officers and King George were appalled with them at the time although others such as Winston Churchill supported them, citing the prior suffering of Irish Unionists at the hands of IRA and the lives the Tans saved. In World War 2 the Black and Tans would fight the actual Nazis whilst the IRA would support them and even shelter their war criminals afterwards.
  • Realistic Diction Is Unrealistic: Ken Loach deliberately prevented his actors from rehearsing very much to achieve this, and it worked.
  • Shown Their Work: Sinead getting a Traumatic Haircut at the hands of the Black & Tans is something that was often done as punishment for women that were thought to have helped the IRA (and the IRA did the same for women associated with soldiers, as depicted in Ryan's Daughter).
  • The Revolution Will Not Be Civilized: The IRA does a lot of morally questionable things...
  • The Revolution Will Not Be Vilified: But the film still clearly sympathizes with them over the thuggish Black and Tans and later the Free State, whose supporters are depicted turning a blind eye to the exploitation of common people because they need funding from capitalists.
  • Shoot the Dog: When Damien is forced to shoot his childhood friend, Chris, as a spy.
  • Title Drop: At Michael's wake, the song being sung by Peggy is the Irish ballad "The Wind that Shakes the Barley", from which the title of the film is derived.
  • Traumatic Haircut: A particularly disturbing example happens to Sinéad when the Auxies sack her family's farm.