Tag Archives: ireland

The Wind That Shakes the Barley (2007)

 “If they bring their savagery over here, we will meet it with a savagery of our own.”

A war of occupation is a peculiar thing. It’s a war that has no defined battle lines, and there’s a good chance that most of the native combatants will be civilians. This inevitably brings reprisals down upon the heads of the noncombatant civilian population. Also since there’s nowhere safe to escape to (you can’t really go behind battle lines since there aren’t any), it’s virtually impossible to stay neutral or uninvolved. In a war of occupation, sooner or later you are going to lose someone you care about, and then you’re sucked into the vortex of violence whether you like it or not.

wind-that-shakes-the-barleyDirector Ken Loach’s film The Wind that Shakes the Barley does a marvelous job of showing the devastating fallout of the British occupation of Ireland through the story of two brothers. The film is set during one of the two periods in Irish history known as the so-called ‘Troubles’ (1919-1921). ”Troubles’ seems like a fairly innocuous label to stick on these turbulent, bloody times, but perhaps that was the point. In 1912, Britain promised Home Rule to Ireland, but this was delayed with the advent of WWI. The failed Easter Rebellion of 1916 helped create support for Sinn Fein, and resistance to the British occupation was growing.

Damien (Cillian Murphy) sees the occupation as something that has little to do with him or his intention to become a doctor. Damien’s brother, Teddy (Padriac Delaney), on the other hand, is passionately devoted to ending the British occupation of Ireland. The two brothers don’t see eye-to-eye on the subject, and while Teddy thinks that Damian should stay and fight, Damian sees medicine as a priority.

Damian’s stance of non-involvement comes to a crushing halt one afternoon. He plays a game of curling with some friends. A group of British soldiers arrive, and using the excuse that the game constitutes an illegal gathering, the soldiers proceed to brutalize the locals and murder of one of Damien’s friends. This incident causes a moral shift in Damian, and fueled by a desire for justice and freedom from the yoke of the British, Damian joins the IRA. The film follows the situations Damien is forced to confront–betrayal by comrades, the difficulty of sustaining a relationship, the abandonment of comrades, and finally a split with his brother over the issue of the 1921 Truce ordered by the First Dail (the Irish parliament established in 1919 and dissolved in 1921 during the truce). Damian rejects the order to give up arms and refuses the truce as a betrayal, telling his brother “This treaty makes you a servant of the British Empire.”

The film’s portrayal of the British soldiers is not flattering, and director Ken Loach (who also made the marvelous mostly-forgotten film about the Spanish Revolution Land and Freedom) came under a great deal of fire for making this film. The film’s commentary (an extra feature on the DVD) includes an explanation that the British Black and Tans were hardened soldiers who’d served in WWI (whereas the Irish were not subject to conscription for WWI). This intense story carries a sense of dreadful sense of fatalism that grows as the film continues, and this makes for a grueling experience at times. Based on real events, some brutal scenes include beatings, torture and executions. And in a history-repeats-itself way, it’s impossible to watch this film and not draw comparisons to the current debacle in Iraq.

Leave a comment

Filed under Ken Loach, Political/social films

Omagh (2004)

 “We would like to call into account the security forces and the police and the politicians in London, Dublin, and Belfast who have promised us so much but have singularly failed to deliver.”

Omagh is a made-for-television film directed by Pete Travis that examines the story behind the Omagh bombing that took place on August 15, 1998. The bombing–carried out by the Real IRA (a splinter group of the provisional Irish Republican Army)–killed 29 people and left approximately 220 wounded. The bombing took place in the middle of the Northern Ireland Peace Process.

omagh1In October 1997, the Real IRA or True IRA formed after splintering from the Provisional IRA and its ceasefire agreement. On August 15, 1998, the organization placed a 500 lb bomb in a stolen car that was parked in a busy downtown market area of Omagh. Bomb warnings were then called in, but in spite of the telephoned warnings, civilians were actually redirected closer to the bomb.

The film Omagh charts the bombing and its after effects on the families of the victims and concentrates its story on the family of Michael Gallagher, whose only son Aiden was killed in the blast. Once the bombing was over, both the British government and the Provisional IRA were determined to continue with the peace process, but the families of the victims wanted those responsible for the bombing to be caught and punished.

At first the families are shown trying to seek arrests through the accepted channels. One Omagh resident patiently keeps writing letters to Tony Blair expecting to get some sort of personal response, but as time goes on, no one is caught and charged with the crime. Omagh residents become increasingly frustrated. A town meeting results initially in frustrated name-calling, but then Gallagher emerges as the chairman of the Omagh Support and Self Help Group.

But after all the official waves of sympathy passed away, the residents, survivors and families of victims were still left with nothing. Referring to British politicians, one resident concludes that “as long as the bombs stay out of London, they don’t give a damn.” In spite of the fact that the names of those involved in the bombing were known on both sides of the border, no one was charged with the crime. Mobile phone call records yielded names of prime suspects, but still no one was charged. And this is when the victims and their families get sick and tired of waiting for results and begin to do some legwork of their own. Amidst stories of multiple advances warnings from British agent Kevin Fulton, the entire Omagh episode becomes even murkier.

Omagh underscores the idea that the IRA and the splinter Real IRA are just as inaccessible, institutionalized, remote and largely disinterested as the British government. And as for the Real IRA members who carried out the bombing, this action proves the argument against using violence to further a political agenda. If the Real IRA were ‘counting’ on the British Government and the local police to warn the residents, we can see just where that illogical sort of reliance and trust led–right into the toilet. It’s a bit pathetic when you think about it. Here you are–the Real IRA devoted to kicking the British out of Ireland, and the best you can do is plant a huge bomb and then expect the police and the British government (institutions the Real IRA supposedly abhors) to do the honorable thing and warn the people. The British government wants one thing, the IRA wants another, but ultimately the people of Omagh were screwed. Was the Omagh massacre the result of police incompetence or was this a disaster that was allowed to happen in order to further a political agenda? Well watch this well-acted, riveting and eloquent film and decide for yourselves.

Leave a comment

Filed under Irish, Political/social films

Felicia’s Journey (1999)

 “We all have to do terrible things, Felicia.”

Felicia (Elaine Cassidy) is a gently spoken young Irish girl who travels to England to find her lover, Johnny (Peter McDonald). She’s pregnant, desperate and under the illusion that everything will be all right if she can just find him. Unfortunately, the elusive Johnny hasn’t been honest with Felicia, and this hampers her search. While Felicia’s Journey to England to seek her lost lover is literal, she also has a figurative journey into the realm of experience and evil when she crosses paths with a serial killer.

Felicia's Journey DVDMr. Hilditch (Bob Hoskins) is the middle-aged, cuddly catering manager of a large factory. His female employees adore him, and they hang on every word as he passes judgment on a jam pudding. His calm, controlled and meticulous attention to detail combined with his obvious love for food make him a fussy, but strangely admirable character. Hilditch’s sprawling country home is a shrine to his dead mother, a famous television chef. His cellar is loaded with dozens of boxes of brand-new kitchen appliances, and he spends his lonely evenings cooking gourmet feasts. He eats in solitary fashion as he watches old tapes of his mother’s television programme through opera glasses.

Flashbacks of Hilditch’s hideous childhood alternate with flashbacks of Felicia’s memories of her love affair. While Felicia questions her past and wonders if Johnny failed her, Hilditch’s memories are unwelcome, and they float to the surface of the present at the most inopportune times. Hilditch is also troubled with memories of young girls he’s known in his past, and then he bumps into Felicia …

Felicia’s Journey is a beautiful, lyrical film. As a long-time fan of the William Trevor novel, I was delighted with Atom Egoyan’s film version. Trevor, a seasoned writer, explores evil in the most unique ways, and with Egoyan’s direction, Trevor’s novel receives the treatment it deserves. Egoyan’s additions to the film blend in perfectly with the novel–Egoyan’s emphasis on the use of video serves only to enhance the story. Egoyan deftly blends three stories here–Felicia and Johnny, Hilditch and his mother, and Hilditch’s relationship with Felicia. Bob Hoskins delivers an incredible performance as a serial killer who appears unthreatening, but who methodically stalks his victims after luring them in to his life. Dreams and memories mesh beautifully in this film. Felicia sleeps and dreams of a future that will never be, and Hilditch’s nightmarish memories take the form of replaying videotapes in his head. Felicia’s Journey and The Sweet Hereafter are Egoyan’s more accessible films, and they are both masterpieces of filmmaking.

Leave a comment

Filed under Atom Egoyan

The Real Charlotte (1991)

 “Not a drop of dirty Saxon blood in him.”

Set in late nineteenth century Ireland, The Real Charlotte is a tale of passion, jealousy and revenge, which revolves around the ambitions of bitter spinster Charlotte Mullen (Jeananne Crowley). When the film begins, Charlotte inherits her aunt’s house and a sum of money with the promise that she’ll offer help to a young cousin, Francie. While she doesn’t relish the task of taking over seventeen-year-old Francie’s care, Charlotte keeps her promise. Poverty-stricken Francie, who lives in Dublin with her widowed mother and a house full of siblings, arrives to live with Charlotte.

Francie (Joanna Roth) is young, beautiful, vivacious, and a flirt. Charlotte sets her ambitious eyes on an advantageous match for Francie, and her target is shy Christopher Dysart (Robin Lermitte). The Dysarts are the most powerful, wealthiest family in the area, and with Christopher as the only son, he’s set to inherit the family mansion, the title, etc. But Francie doesn’t cooperate with Charlotte’s plan; she’s attracted to a young British officer, Gerald Hawkins (Nicholas Hewetson). There’s another man who desires Francie–Roderick Lambert (Patrick Bergin). Although Lambert is married, he adores Francie, and showers her with attention and gifts. Lambert has known Francie since she was a child, and some people are oblivious to the underlying nature of his attentions. But when Charlotte discovers Lambert’s true feelings for Francie, she’s bitterly jealous, and this sparks a chain of disastrous events.

All the main characters in this drama are duplicitous to one degree or another. Charlotte for example, poses as a friend to several people while she laces these relationships with poisonous remarks. The overview of the class structure with its subtle and not-so-subtle differentiations is very well done. While the Anglo-Irish Dysarts with their British connections are on the top of the human pile, their British visitor considers the Dysarts quaint and unpleasantly eccentric. Charlotte and Lambert fall beneath the Dysarts on the ranking chain, but they are both merciless to anyone who is ‘beneath’ them socially–and this includes the local peasantry, and Julia Duffy–an Catholic Irishwoman who’s most effectively, and legally, disenfranchised.

The servants are portrayed sympathetically, and since they are largely treated like invisible vermin, they are privy to scenes that reveal the true natures of their ‘masters.’ As for the gentry, well, Sir Benjamin Dysart is indulged and demented, and Charlotte is hated and feared by the Irish peasantry who see her true vicious, grasping nature. The seeds of civil unrest in the country are present and will erupt within a few short years.

The Real Charlotte is a made-for-British television four-part series on a 2 DVD set. If you enjoy costume dramas, or just love British television, then you should enjoy The Real Charlotte based on a novel by Somerville. Unfortunately the ending was a bit abrupt, and this weakened the film. If you enjoy The Real Charlotte I also recommend the DVD Troubles (novel written by J.G Farrell). From director Tony Barry.

Leave a comment

Filed under British television