30 June 2006

A Bottom Up Antidote to 'Michael Collins'

So, Rachel and I went along to see The Wind that Shakes the Barley this evening, and lo and behold, it was as good as I'd hoped. It's not a comfortable film to watch, being at times so violent that looking at the screen is an effort, but it is a good one, impressively acted and directed, and performing the tricky job of humanising the anti-treaty forces in the Civil War.

There's a tendency in Ireland nowadays to see the pro-treaty forces as the pragmatists who wanted to put a broken country back together, following Collins's dictum that the Treaty gave us 'the freedom to achieve freedom'. Compared to these, the anti-treaty forces -- if people realise at all that they were fighting against subservience to the Crown rather than squabbling about partition, an all too common misconception- - can seem like idealistic idiots, people who'd value their own honour above the lives of their fellow countrymen.

To a certain extent Loach recognises the truth that lies in both these cliches, but watching this film you realise that these cliches are cliches loaded with hindsight. Things must have seemed far less clear at the time, and the Statute of Westminster lay a good decade in the future, after all.

The brother has done a good job in pulling together a batch of reviews for the film from a selection of papers -- not The Irish Times, but that's subscription only, so no harm there.

I was meant to have gone yesterday with Sister Mauraid and a couple of others from the chaplaincy, but I was running late, and realised in any case that unlike at home, the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul is a holy day of obligation here. So it was that I skipped the cinema to go to mass yesterday - how things have changed - with me reading both readings, the psalm, and the acclamation. After mass I wound up having dinner with Mauraid and the crew anyway, where we chatted about the film, among other things. Mauraid had been deeply impressed by it; having seen it myself I'm astounded by this, hardly thinking it'd have been her type of film, but there you have it.

Over dinner it was mentioned that The Tablet had given the film a terrible review, and having glanced at it at the time, and read it carefully again since seeing the film, I'm inclined to agree, not with the reviewer who has no time for the film, but simply with the fact of the review being terrible.

The reviewer, Crispin Jackson, describes the film as 'a two-hour dramatisation of the bitter struggle during the Irish War of Independence between the IRA and the government Black and Tans'. All very well, save that the second half -- or at least the last third -- of the film deals not with the War of Independence but with the subsequent Civil War.
'And would an Irish toff, even one as blimpish as Roger Allam's sirloin-chopped Sir John Hamilton, really describe his own country as "a priest-infested backwater"?'
I don't see why not. After all, take a look at the Christmas dinner scene in Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. The rowing characters there are all Catholics, yet they display an anti-clericalism far more extreme than Sir John Hamilton's.
'The sole mention of the Ulster Protestants comes towards the end of the film, when a Republican hardliner - incensed at the Partition of the island - complains that the treaty only gives the Orangemen carte blanches to terrorise further their Catholic neighbours.'
The film, being set in wartorn rebel Cork, could easily have got by without any mention of the Ulster Protestants at all, as it happens, but in any case, the Republican hardliners of this film are far less troubled by partition than they are by the fact that having sworn an oath to an independent Irish Republic that they are now being asked to remain subjects of the crown against which they had fought so hard.
Even more nauseating is Loach's soft-pedalling on the whole issue of the Provo's brutality towards--'
But I'll stop there. Provo's? The Provo's weren't established until 1969, nearly half a century after the film is set. I dunno, perhaps some editing would have been useful at this point. Or even a bit of journalistic integrity.


Anyway, the point being, if you get a chance, go and see it.

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