Opening 28 Dec 2006
The title of this moving film by Ken Loach about the background of the Irish “Troubles” is from a song, haunting and beautiful, written in the 1800s, sung by an Irish woman at the funeral of a 17-year-old youth who was beaten to death by the British soldiers, “the Black and Tans”. The Irish had fought bravely and fiercely, side by side, with the English in the Great War. But they were determined to gain independence from England and revolted against the Crown in the famous Easter Uprising of 1916. The British government was just as determined to cling to its colonial possessions, of which Ireland was one, even if it meant controlling the population with vast hordes of soldiers more than willing to kill.
Loach’s film is concerned with the years 1920-22. Two brothers, Damien (Cillian Murphy) and Teddy (Pádraic Delaney) are leaders of the movement for independence in the South of Ireland. Damien, forced by circumstances he found impossible to overlook, has given up his brilliant future as a doctor at a hospital in London to join Teddy in the passionate but undermanned and under armed guerrilla war. The escalating violence and the success of the guerrilla effort seemingly bring the British to their knees. But the controversial peace agreement struck in London in 1921 divides not only Ireland but the brothers and the Cause. Irish turn against Irish and the clever division of the country into North and South set up by the British is ratified by many of the revolutionary leaders, including Teddy, in an earnest effort to end the misery. Of course what develops is just the opposite as we know -- years of murderous violence and hatred with the IRA and Sinn Fein at the helm. Only in the last few years has Ireland known an uneasy peace.
Teddy and Damien’s story, Damien’s deep love for Sinaed (Orla Fitzgerald), the sister of the murdered youth, and the conflict for which neither side can win over the other, does not go well. And this conflict is the story of the movie. The film won the Golden Palm in Cannes over Almòdavar’s Volver, a decision I would not have concurred with. It is a good film, well-shot and well-acted, gripping and occasionally surprising, but one we have seen before. (Adele Riepe)