Follow TV Tropes


Film / The Wind That Shakes the Barley

Go To

"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 eventually drive the British to the breaking point and a truce is declared, 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 a free 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:

  • 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.
  • Advertisement:
  • 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."
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Kill the Ones You Love: And they start at it before the Civil War breaks out.
  • 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. Even many British officers and King George were appalled with them at the time.
  • Realistic Diction Is Unrealistic: Ken Loach deliberately prevented his actors from rehearsing very much to achieve this, and it worked.
  • La Résistance: The IRA and later the Anti-Treaty IRA.
  • 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 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.


How well does it match the trope?

Example of:


Media sources: