Director Spotlight: Ken Loach: The Wind That Shakes the Barley

On the occasion of his newest film, IFC's The Angels' Share, Statuesque highlights some of iconic UK director Ken Loach's best and brightest contributions to cinema. Today Statuesque looks back at Cannes-winner The Wind That Shakes the Barley...

The Wind That Shakes the Barley

Director: Ken Loach
Cast: Cillian Murphy, Liam Cunningham, Padraic Delaney
Studio: UK Film Council, Pathé Distribution
US Release Date: 2006-06-23

Perhaps Ken Loach’s most well known film, the 2006 international hit The Wind That Shakes the Barley could also be seen as his most ambitious. Set during the Irish War of Independence and then the Irish Civil War, Loach’s film is an unequivocally substantial story for locals and foreigners alike. There are gunfights, high-level government meetings, and plenty of other sets, characters, and actions that many would picture requiring a big budget.

Yet the director known for his hard-and-fast shooting style keeps his methods intact, and the picture benefits all the more from his approach. It helps that Paul Laverty’s touching script focuses on two brothers who become fed up with the crown’s oppression. Laverty and Loach, long-term collaborators who the latter described as “filmmakers” above all else, find the intimate parts of the story and maximize them in a way that conveys both the national and familial consequences.

Certainly aided by a fine performance from Cillian Murphy, Loach’s film feels deeply personal. The director has been telling stories focusing on western European problems for decades, but here he’s dealing with more than metaphor-laden fiction. These wars really happened even if the brothers didn’t exist exactly as they do on screen. The discussions of the movement’s goals are just as riveting as the heartbreaking battle scenes. This couldn’t have happened without the soft touch of the writer and director. Laverty and Loach honor the movement’s ideals while rightly refusing to choose a side once Ireland—and it citizen opinion—splits.

Loach’s part in the social realism movement may have reached its peak with The Wind That Shakes the Barley. Not only does the story focus on a rebellion started to help the working class of Ireland overcome oppression from an upper class British regime. Not only was it made as an independent production with a strong foothold in realism. Not only did a director famous for successfully propagating both the style and ideals of each movement helm it. It also earned Loach the highest recognition of his career.

In 2006, there was an overabundance of high-level films competing for the Palme d’Or at the French film festival. Big names behind the camera who had made big hits internationally already were competing for Cannes’ top prize. Pedro Almodovar was there with Volver. Sofia Coppola premiered Marie Antoinette, her follow-up to Lost In Translation. Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu was even there with his Brad Pitt-starring, eventual Best Picture nominee (likely runner-up) Babel.

Then there was Ken Loach, a respected artist whose films were festival favorites but box office poison. Loach had been nominated for the award seven times prior and never won. He was even given an honorary award two years earlier, the equivalent of Oscar’s lifetime achievement award that is both a recognition of what you’ve done and what you were unable to do (actually win). Could he and his little movie from Ireland really compete with the marketing savvy of the big Hollywood studio, not to mention the budgets provided by them? Absolutely. The Wind That Shakes the Barley took down the big dogs to win the Palme d’Or in a symbolic statement even the most money-hungry studio executive had to appreciate.





A Certain Ratio Return with a Message of Hope on 'ACR Loco'

Inspired by 2019's career-spanning box set, legendary Manchester post-punkers A Certain Ratio return with their first new album in 12 years, ACR Loco.


Oscar Hijuelos' 'Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love' Dances On

Oscar Hijuelos' dizzyingly ambitious foot-tapping family epic, Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love, opened the door for Latinx writers to tell their stories in all their richness.


PM Picks Playlist 2: Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES, SOUNDQ

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES' stunning dream folk, Polish producer SOUNDQ, the indie pop of Pylon Heights, a timely message from Exit Kid, and Natalie McCool's latest alt-pop banger.


'Lost Girls and Love Hotels' and Finding Comfort in Sadness

William Olsson's Lost Girls and Love Hotels finds optimism in its message that life tears us apart and puts us back together again differently.


Bright Eyes' 'Down in the Weeds' Is a Return to Form and a Statement of Hope

Bright Eyes may not technically be emo, but they are transcendently expressive, beatifically melancholic. Down in the Weeds is just the statement of grounding that we need as a respite from the churning chaos around us.


Audrey Hepburn + Rome = Grace, Class, and Beauty

William Wyler's Roman Holiday crosses the postcard genre with a hardy trope: Old World royalty seeks escape from stuffy, ritual-bound, lives for a fling with the modern world, especially with Americans.


Colombia's Simón Mejía Plugs Into the Natural World on 'Mirla'

Bomba Estéreo founder Simón Mejía electrifies nature for a different kind of jungle music on his debut solo album, Mirla.


The Flaming Lips Reimagine Tom Petty's Life in Oklahoma on 'American Head'

The Flaming Lips' American Head is a trip, a journey to the past that one doesn't want to return to but never wants to forget.


Tim Bowness of No-Man Discusses Thematic Ambition Amongst Social Division

With the release of his seventh solo album, Late Night Laments, Tim Bowness explores global tensions and considers how musicians can best foster mutual understanding in times of social unrest.


Angel Olsen Creates a 'Whole New Mess'

No one would call Angel Olsen's Whole New Mess a pretty album. It's much too stark. But there's something riveting about the way Olsen coos to herself that's soft and comforting.


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


Masma Dream World Go Global and Trippy on "Sundown Forest" (premiere)

Dancer, healer, musician Devi Mambouka shares the trippy "Sundown Forest", which takes listeners deep into the subconscious and onto a healing path.


Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" Is an Ode for Unity in Troubling Times (premiere)

Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" is a gentle, prayerful tune that depicts the heart of their upcoming album, Crucible.


'What a Fantastic Death Abyss': David Bowie's 'Outside' at 25

David Bowie's Outside signaled the end of him as a slick pop star and his reintroduction as a ragged-edged arty agitator.


Dream Folk's Wolf & Moon Awaken the Senses with "Eyes Closed" (premiere)

Berlin's Wolf & Moon are an indie folk duo with a dream pop streak. "Eyes Closed" highlights this aspect as the act create a deep sense of atmosphere and mood with the most minimal of tools.


Ranking the Seasons of 'The Wire'

Years after its conclusion, The Wire continues to top best-of-TV lists. With each season's unique story arc, each viewer is likely to have favorites.


Paul Reni's Silent Film 'The Man Who Laughs' Is Serious Cinema

There's so much tragedy present, so many skullduggeries afoot, and so many cruel and vindictive characters in attendance that a sad and heartbreaking ending seems to be an obvious given in Paul Reni's silent film, The Man Who Laughs.


The Grahams Tell Their Daughter "Don't Give Your Heart Away" (premiere)

The Grahams' sweet-sounding "Don't Give Your Heart Away" is rooted in struggle, inspired by the couples' complicated journey leading up to their daughter's birth.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.