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.

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty

  • Oilbhear Chromaill

    When I met and interviewed Ken Loach not so long ago I made the point to him – and his co-writer Paul McLaverty – that their movie reminded me of the songs of Ewan McColl. No-one would deny that Ewan McColl was British – but he wasn’t British establishment.
    People like Ruth Dudley Edwards appear to take to heart as assaults on their beloved Britain any attempt to expose the British Establishment as a corrupt edifice which has done nothing for ordinary British people but has done very nicely itself on their backs, thank you very much.
    After all it’s mostly working class Brits who get sent to the front line while the scarlet majors stay at the base and send glum young men up the line to their deaths.
    That’s basically behind this smokescreen which has surrounded this film and which has been cultivated by the British Establishment – they want people to think it’s Anti British simply because it’s attacking the Establishment, the Royals and so on, but it really is nothing like that at all.
    The same message goes for the Establishment in Ireland who are perfectly comfortable with the idea of an anti British film as long as the status quo in Ireland isn’t challenged. The film actually challenged the powers that be in Ireland more than it did the British, in my view.

    Testament to the film’s success is the fact that it has, despite all the contrary propoganda and despite the decision not to run it in more than 30 cinemas in the UK, grossed more than £1m already, far more than any of Loach’s other movies.

    Hat’s off to England’s only world class performance this summer…..

  • spirit-level

    The rebel English heart differs very little from the rebel Irish heart, or any other rebel heart for that matter. Together we can’t hate snobbery, respectability,hypocricy, b!gotry and the Establishment. Add cartoonists Bell and Scarfe to the list of Milton, Blake.

  • spirit-level

    can’t stand or hate …..
    newbie 🙂

  • Go on Mick,make a few pence on this 🙂

  • Prince Eoghan

    Oh dear the Troll, one of ATW,s finest I’m afraid. One of their more moderate contributors, I believe.

  • Prince Eoghan

    Ah he’s been rescued from himself;¬)

  • Fred Allan

    I don’t have time to carefully raise these questions but here goes:
    OF COURSE there is such tradition. But this doesn’t change the fact that Loach’s film is the work of a fantasist. His efforts to rehabilitate the anti-treayites as socialist republicans resisting the gombeen men-church nexus is a nonsense. There was something of the latter but little of the former. If only the civil war had been so unambiguously rooted in such principles. Moreover, it is noticeable that in Loach’s film the boys are driven into the IRA by Black & Tans violence rather than any ideological conviction. Fair enough. And then the charismatic socialist shows up and it turns out that our doctor friend, about to leave for London, has been a Connollyite all along. He clearly dies a fanatic, in contrast to his executioner, and Loach seems to lose something of his certainty in what is a terrible waste and a loss to Ireland. What makes Loach’s film fascinating, however, is the role one can fairly safely assume was played the director-who-will-never-lead-a-revolution who turns up in Cork, rounds up some amateur actors, gets them to stop worrying about houses prices, mobile phones, and opening restaurants, and convinces them their real heritage is revolutionary socialism.
    And what did the politics of anti-treatyism eventually deliver Ireland? Fianna Fail. The social revolution had already happened and it created a nation of small property owners. The narrative arc followed by Neil Jordan’s equally didactic Michael Collins gets a bit nearer the truth in portraying the division as between fanaticism and pragmatism. a) there was no real ideological dispute between the two parties. Both were generally separatist and both opposed partition. b)de Valera, in coming up with the idea of ‘external association’, had already conceded that full separation was not possible. But as the work of historians suggests, more satisfactory explanations are to be found through regional studies, power politics, interpersonal resentments, as well as ideology. In other words, the complexities of history. Why was Sligo strongly anti-treatyite? See Michael Farry’s work etc etc. Finally, the portrayal of the Anglo-Irish landowner is comically cliched. They’re hardly a breed to defend, but this crudely US and THEM caricuture is laughable, not least because this is a class that thanks to British legislation had been rightly stripped of the source of their authority, ie land.

  • I’ve often thought that Ken loach would be the ideal man to make a film about the Levellers.
    Their story has similar themes to those of Land and Freedom, and the Wind that Shakes the Barley, and in some ways it needs to be told more urgently.

  • Sean Fear

    After all it’s mostly working class Brits who get sent to the front line while the scarlet majors stay at the base and send glum young men up the line to their deaths. ”

    Traditionally, the “scarlet majors” would have been the ones suffering the highest proportion of casualties in any British war.

  • Nice reference to “Base Details” there OC. One of the best war poems – Sassoon at his vitriolic, cynical best.

  • Lol @ Troll using the ‘oirish’ word.
    Now I wonder who hes learned that from??? 😉

  • Tom, that reminds me of the song from a few years ago by a band called the Levellers…

    Do you fancy a drink
    Just the one
    To clear your head
    We won’t be long
    It’s a beautiful day
    To waste away
    There’s plenty of time
    For another one

    You know you shouldn’t do it
    But can’t see no reason why
    So blow your mind

    After a short Google I found there are the Levellers here too…

  • Nic

    Oliver C., I’m a bit confused: what do you mean by “When I met and interviewed Ken Loach not so long ago I made the point to him – and his co-writer Paul McLaverty – that their movie reminded me of the songs of Ewan McColl. No-one would deny that Ewan McColl was British – but he wasn’t British establishment.”?
    I’m basically missing a quote or reaction from Loach or McLaverty or something that explains the relevance of mentioning that you interviewed them?

    spirit-level: a statement such as “The rebel English heart differs very little from the rebel Irish heart, or any other rebel heart for that matter.” is patently ludicrous.
    The only “rebel english heart” I can think of who took up arms against his own people in remotely recent times was Guy Fawkes, or am I missing some movement in the UK that proclaims itself the true goverment of the country and is prepared to bomb and maim their way to their rightful power if necessary?

    In fact, I think it’s an insult to a law-abiding political cartoonist like Bell and an establishment filmmaker like Loach to lump them by association in with those who excuse, condone and arrange murder, maiming and torture as legitimate political tools against their opponents.

    But I suppose that’s just me getting all moralistic and “unhelpful” again, eh?

  • John Steinbeck was deeply hated by the landowners of Salinas Valley and the Monterey Peninsula. He spent the rest of his life away from home — he mighta been lynched.

    For Steinbeck’s defense of the Okies, Lyle Boren, US Congressman form Oklahoma, thanked him thusly: ““his book is a lie, a black, infernal creation of a twisted, distorted mind.” Ruth Dudley? Hizonor makes you look like a real wuss.

    The venerable New York Times on the eve of Steinbeck’s Nobel Prize presented a hit piece entitled “Does a Writer with a Moral Vision of the 1930s Deserve the Nobel Prize?” in which Steinbeck was described as “he writes like the author of any third-rate best-seller”. Match that Eoghan Harris –neener neener neener.

    The moral of our story, Sluggiepoos? Praise Mom, God, apple pie on the 4th of July, the Flag or the Miracle of Capitalism and you are greeted as a hero, a dynamic talent. Point out that things could have been better and the guardians of the establishment burn you in front of City Hall.

  • Sean Fear

    For all the hagiography here, the point is that Loach is a twit whose time has long past.

  • kensei

    Anyone who berates this film for being anti-British is spectacularly missing the point. The film captured the broad sweep of history happening around the people involved and that was just as true for the Civil War section of the film as it was for the Tan War section. From the perspective of the characters fighting, the Tans were bad people and the Landlords were bad people and that was all it needed to show. Similarly, the situation set up in the Civil War section was a bit too neat, but it got it’s point across.

    I would also disagree with the statement that it glorified the IRA. The IRA actions that were carried out had little glory attached to them; they looked nasty and they felt nasty. The ending was far from glorifying anything. There was no glory anywhere, just bitter defeat.

    I didn’t get he Iraq parallels either, save for one thing. First they fight the occupier, and then they turn on each other. And that’s a very real possibility in Iraq.

    I found the film quite powerful and quite raw. I can see why it won the award. but I also have a feeling with this film people may see what they want to see.

  • Daily Mail readers… Tut Tut… they actually take themselves seriously.

  • “Anyone who berates this film for being anti-British is spectacularly missing the point.”

    They understand, they just can’t acknowledge it because of a hissy fit of British Imperial pique over the loss of their first colony.

    Yankees have the same obsession over Cuba. Both can’t be cured, only endured, even if they bore the tits off you from time to time.

  • Rory

    Right on, Smilin’ Jim. And while we’re on the subject of real American patriots, men who loved the American people, let’s hear it for two who are still with us, thank God, Studs Terkel and Kurt Vonnegut Jr.