Loach: rescuing England from Imperial past?

There are two views on the significance of Ken Loache’s Palme d’Or winning film “The Wind that Shook the Barley worth a blog even after the initial controversy has died down. The first is from literary critic Declan Kiberd, who argues that far from hating his own country, Loach is part of a long tradition of radicals (subs needed) in the line of Milton, Blake, and Shelley, who were devoted to the smaller egalitarian idea of Englishness over the latter term of Britishness, into which, he argues it was later subsumed. He argues that, “The film is austere, moving and honest, though – like much socialist art – less interested in the nuances of individual personality than the viewer might wish”, he nevertheless esteems the tradition highly. He finishes with quotations from Shaw:

“Whenever Londoners ask me the meaning of those dreaded words Sinn Féin,” he joked in 1920, “I tell them it is the Irish for John Bull”. And his fellow-socialist, Oscar Wilde, had argued, with only part of his tongue in his cheek, that England itself might be the ultimate British colony, in need of rescuing by radicals who could return it to its best traditions.

Loach is but the latest rescuer. Far from hating his country, as Ruth Dudley Edwards alleged in the Daily Mail, he loves and celebrates the land of Milton, Blake and Shelley. And, in liberating a hidden but never completely lost idea of England, he is helping to remind us on this island of the story of how Ireland freed itself.

People who ask hard questions within their own communities should always be encouraged. For years, some who explored the blind-spots of Irish nationalism were given an annual prize in memory of the murdered British ambassador, Christopher Ewart-Biggs. Maybe it’s time now to establish an award which recognises the contribution of many English people to a fuller understanding of Ireland.

Ken Loach would be a worthy recipient.

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