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Lands of Exile
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Culture and Customs: Traditions, folklore, and more.
Tara Hall, Headquarters for 'Fighting 69th' and Irish Brigade Memorabilia, online at Fighting69th.com.
Irish Culture and Customs: Traditions, folklore, and more.
Like other recent movies set against "The Troubles," such as Neil Jordan's "Michael Collins," Loach's film asks, why, and what if. Why did the Irish accept The Anglo-Irish Treaty that ushered in decades of additional strife throughout Ireland? And what if people made different choices? Loach and "Barley" hint at answers, which are ultimately unknowable. And the film does so with grace, intelligence, and striking emotional impact.
"Barley" has rightfully garnered many honors since its premiere at the Cannes Film Festival last May, including the Palme d'Or, awarded to the film deemed the festival's finest. Alas, the film wasn't eligible for this year's Oscars, which required a U.S. release in 2006. The production budget was about $8 million.
The film, whose title is drawn from a 19th century Irish folksong, drew more Irish eyes last year than all but Disney Picture's "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest" and James Bond blockbuster "Casino Royale." It lured controversy as well, something the outspoken Loach readily draws. Dublin-born writer Ruth Dudley Edward described "Barley" as "a travesty of history" and wrote of Loach "… what is truth in the hands of this Marxist propagandist?"
Paul Laverty's screenplay tells several stories -- that of the Irish War of Independence and Civil War, the role of women in the freedom struggle, the thuggery of British imperialism during those harrowing years, but most strikingly the obscenity of brother turned against brother.
The movie begins in the summer of 1920 in Ireland, with a group of Irish lads playing hurling, with reckless abandon, on a pasture amid the splendor of the West Cork mountains. It's an innocent, happy scene; Damien, the protagonist, splendidly played by Murphy, is leaving his pals, going to London to further his medical career. Damien and his friends walk to the farm house of Peggy, a survivor of Ireland's Great Famine, her daughter, Bernadette, and granddaughter Sinead, portrayed by Orla Fitzgerald in a remarkable performance that captures both the strength and vulnerability of women caught in the conflict.
The film quickly takes an ominous turn as the house is raided by the so-called "Black and Tans," the most notorious of the paramilitaries Britain recruited to combat the Irish insurrection. In a chaotic scene, unleashing fear and anger (in the audience, too), the Tan patrol tries to humiliate the men, alternating brutality and ear-splitting shouting. One of the lads refuses to say his name in English, and is taken into the family's modest thatch-covered house and beaten to death. With this one scene, we come to understand the stakes both for the characters, and for the Irish people.
What we see in "Barley," through the artistry of Loach, Laverty, and an extraordinary ensemble cast of actors and recruited locals is how the war forced ordinary people to do extraordinary, heroic and sometimes repulsive things. By the film's end, one has confronted, in a visceral, transformative way, the wages of centuries of British domination of Irish life, culture, and governance.
The fateful Anglo-Irish Treaty gives the British a face-saving way out, and forces the Irish to fatefully choose sides, for or against the treaty and its oath to the Crown and division of the country. Damien, his brother and their comrades are left to work out their differences, and with the eruption of civil war we see how Irishmen quickly came to do the work of the British in blunting the nation's yearnings for complete sovereignty. Dan, seeing a former comrade in a Free State uniform, says: "Kick out the Black and Tans. … Bring in the Green and Tans." Ultimately, the film's blend of history and artistry, abetted by a devastating conclusion, constitutes a powerful reverie on the tragedy of Ireland's partition. WGT
This feature was edited by Gerry Regan and produced by Joe Gannon.
Copyright © 2007 by Patricia Jameson-Sammartano and GAR Media LLC. This article may not be resold, reprinted, or redistributed for compensation of any kind without prior permission from the author. Direct questions about permissions to firstname.lastname@example.org.