Daily Ireland, June 1, 2006
Palme d'Or for Ken Loach film "The Wind That Shakes the Barley"
LOACH HITS BACK
by Mick Hall
Director of Tan War film The Wind that Shakes the Barley rejects British
tabloid ‘vitriol’ against his work saying ‘partition has failed’ and the
unionist veto should be replaced ‘by a way of unravelling the sad legacy of
the 1921 treaty’
The acclaimed film-maker Ken Loach yesterday hit back at British press
criticism of his award-winning film on the Tan War.
Speaking exclusively to Daily Ireland last night, the 69-year-old director
said some of the criticism had been of an “amazingly vitriolic and personal
He said it had been movitated by a “deep-seated imperialist guilt” over the
partition of Ireland and the subsequent years of conflict that had resulted.
Mr Loach said the British government should now acknowledge that “partition
had failed”. He said the “unionist veto” on political progress should be
replaced by a way of “unravelling the sad legacy of the 1921 Treaty.”
The Wind That Shakes the Barley won the prestigious Palme d’Or award at the
Cannes film festival last Sunday but was savaged by several tabloid
newspapers this week. Mr Loach was accused of propagating anti-British
The film depicts events during the IRA’s guerrilla campaign against British
rule during the 1920s. It stars Cillian Murphy as an Irish medical student
who takes up arms against a reign of terror by the Black and Tans, the
notorious auxiliary force sent in to quell calls for independence.
On Sunday, a nine-person jury at Cannes, headed by the Chinese director Wong
Kar-wai, returned a unanimous decision to give the top award to the
director, who had previously been nominated on seven occasions.
Mr Loach told guests at the gala closing ceremony: “Our film, we hope, is
about the British confronting their imperialist history and maybe if we tell
the truth about the past, we will have the truth about the present.”
Mr Loach also drew parallels between what was depicted in the film and the
current occupation of Iraq.
A series of vitriolic attacks on the director by several right-wing tabloids
followed. The Sun said the film had a plot “designed to drag the reputation
of our nation through the mud”.
“It portrays British soldiers as trigger-happy mercenaries hooked on
torture, burning cottages for kicks and using pliers to rip out the toenails
of innocent Irish victims.
“At the same time, cold-blooded republican butchers star as figures of
heroic bravery,” wrote columnist Harry MacAdam.
The Independent said the film’s graphic depiction of the Black and Tans had
“come across like a recruiting campaign for the IRA”.
Ruth Dudley Edwards, writing in the Daily Mail, accused the director of
contriving to portray the “British as sadists and the Irish as romantic,
idealistic resistance fighters” to suit a political agenda.
Mr Loach said the criticism had not once challenged the veracity of the film.
“Not one of the criticisms managed to directly challenge the script’s
content. It was instead based on vitriolic personal attacks and
inaccuracies,” the director said.
“Ruth Dudley Edwards’ piece, in particular, was amazing. I never, as she
claimed, had four films banned by the BBC or was a member of the Socialist
Workers Party, for example.”
Mr Loach said the press coverage had been a “knee-jerk reaction” by those
who were incapable of facing Britain’s colonial past and who felt threatened
by being confronted with aspects of their own history.
“Exposing colonialism in its brutality is something the British ruling class
react violently against. Guilt is embedded deeply in the consciousness of
the political class,” Mr Loach said.
He added that Ireland held a special place among the colonies because
society was still living with the legacy of colonialism and this also
accounted for the media reaction.
“People can only understand the conflict in the North by understanding its
roots in the Treaty. Once people do, it makes it harder for others to
represent the Irish conflict as a case of ‘the Irish just can’t get along’.
It may account therefore for some of the press hostility,” he said.
When asked whether a British prime minister should publicly renounce, on
behalf of the government, Britain’s colonial history as being wrong in
principle, Mr Loach replied: “They are incapable of doing so. Imperialism is
in their blood and their words do not mean much of anything.
“They will not because they are pursuing an imperialist agenda in Iraq and
elsewhere. To acknowledge they were wrong in the past would be to
acknowledge that they are wrong now.”
However, the film director said the British government should openly
acknowledge the failure of partition and work towards dismantling the
unionist political veto over change in Ireland. “Partition has been a
failure. It has resulted in decades of political strife and death. It
created a failed statelet.
“The British government should publicly acknowledge this and work towards
unravelling the mess it created. The unionist veto on change must be
removed. This must be achieved reasonably but certainly it must begin with
an acceptance that partition has failed,” he said.