Loach: over-rehearsed agitprop…

Earlier I promised two views of the Loach film. The second is Alex Kane, who was not in the least impressed by what he calls “a bad film, propaganda masquerading as knowledge”. Whilst others have praised it for its allegorical character, Kane argues that the characters in this film would not recognise themselves in modern day Northern Ireland. The political truth, he argues, is more mundane and prosaic.By Alex Kane

Ken Loach’s new film, The Spin That Shakes The Barely Credible, is straight from the bejabbers and begorrah school of filmmaking. It’s a sort of Darby O’Gill meets the oppressed people of Craggy Island, and it has enough hooey in it to keep Martin McGuinness shovelling for weeks.

It is a given that the English, be it in the form of the Black and Tans, or of the landowners, are evil; and that the Oirish, from the clay-pipe smoking granny to the hired help in the fields, are all put-upon martyrs. And we all know that every IRA man was “driven” to it by the serial abuse he suffered at the boots and rifle butts of the wicked oppressor. Yep, it’s one of those versions of history, where the director nails his personal tricolour to the camera and views everything from the same oblique angle.

In that sense, alone, it is a bad film, propaganda masquerading as knowledge. But worse still, the script sounds like it was penned by “P.O’Neill’s” poteen-fuelled grandfather, while the cast has abandoned traditional methods in favour of a supposedly naturalistic delivery which still manages to come across as over-rehearsed agitprop.

But there is one aspect of it which is worth considering. The 1921 Treaty split republicanism, with the minority faction refusing to accept partition and the continuation of the British presence in any part of Ireland. Yet, by 1998, that minority faction, the Sinn Fein/IRA machines led by Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness, formally and finally signed up to partition and the constitutional legitimacy of Northern Ireland. At the end of Loach’s green-lathered soap opera, the fist shaking anti-Treaty heroine was telling her former comrade-in-arms to “get off my land.” Today, Adams and McGuinness are queuing up to hold out the hand of friendship to UK Prime Ministers and Unionist leaders.

Loach and his admirers may have their “A Nation Once Again” badges pinned to their lapels, but the brutal reality for the green-eyed romanticists is that Irish republicanism remains a busted flush. The modern IRA and the photo-opportunistic Sinn Fein wouldn’t be recognised by his fist shaking heroine. She wouldn’t understand a republicanism which accommodated unionism and shared Ireland with the British. And nor would she understand a Fianna Fail which had nurtured and promoted something as ironically named, paradoxically timed and anti-republican as the Good Friday Agreement.

The only wind which has had any major effect upon republicanism, old and new, is the wind which has blown it away from never-never land and onto the rocks of political reality. In exactly the same way that Michael Collins was forced to cut a deal in 1921, Adams and McGuinness were forced to cut a deal which had the imprimatur of another British government. It is an Anglo-Irish deal; A London-Dublin deal; A Unionist-Republican deal; A North-South deal. Call it what you will, it is not a united Ireland deal; and Adams is as big a loser today as Collins was in 1921.

Crucially, though, what Adams has in his favour, is a DUP which seems incapable of facing him down and calling his bluff. I’m not persuaded by the views of those who believe that the DUP is divided into a fundamentalist/pragmatic/anti-power sharing factionalism which is preventing it from cutting a deal in the near future. Collectively, I think the DUP isn’t good at risk-taking or leadership; and, by the time it finally abandons electoral posturing and faces up to hard truths, it will have lost the one real opportunity it had to cut a deal on reasonably favourable and sellable terms. And it mustn’t allow crude financial blackmail from Blair and Hain to stand in the way.

As far as the endgame is concerned neither unionism nor republicanism can win. They have a few months to cement a workable compromise. If they don’t do it now, then it won’t, in my opinion, be done at all. Republicans everywhere will be praying for Ian Paisley not to buckle, for their continuing relevance depends upon his continuing intransigence. Now, there’s a film for you, Mr. Loach!

First Published in the Newsletter on Saturday 1st July 2006

  • jake

    Fell asleep after the 2nd paragraph of that review, was the writer over 15?

    It is hard to take any review seruiously when the writer decides he cannot bring himself to correctly state the film name.

  • Pa

    [Play the ball! – edited Moderator]

  • Occasional Commentator

    This isn’t a review of the film. It’s just a bog standard rant about modern NI.

    Alex, like many unionists, seems to forget that attacking modern Sinn Fein doesn’t help to tell us anything about the rights and wrongs of the Easter Rising or of this film.

    He’ll have to do better than “straight from the bejabbers and begorrah school of filmmaking” if he thinks he has something to say about the film.

  • when will we some one like Loach properly tackle the 1922-23 civil war in Ireland ?
    A period that out did the Tans in outrages.

  • “The Spin That Shakes The Barely Credible”

    “Darby O’Gill meets the oppressed people of Craggy Island”

    “penned by “P.O’Neill’s” poteen-fuelled grandfather,”

    I haven’t been more embarrassed for a group of yokels since Ken Maginnis held up the newspaper on Larry King.

  • aquifer

    ‘Irish republicanism remains a busted flush’

    I see no Englishmen suffering to keep irish unionists in their old supremacist style.

    Windy, shaky, yes. British? barely.

  • Mick Fealty

    Perhaps the real meat is here:

    Crucially, though, what Adams has in his favour, is a DUP which seems incapable of facing him down and calling his bluff. I’m not persuaded by the views of those who believe that the DUP is divided into a fundamentalist/pragmatic/anti-power sharing factionalism which is preventing it from cutting a deal in the near future. Collectively, I think the DUP isn’t good at risk-taking or leadership; and, by the time it finally abandons electoral posturing and faces up to hard truths, it will have lost the one real opportunity it had to cut a deal on reasonably favourable and sellable terms. And it mustn’t allow crude financial blackmail from Blair and Hain to stand in the way.

    As far as the endgame is concerned neither unionism nor republicanism can win. They have a few months to cement a workable compromise. If they don’t do it now, then it won’t, in my opinion, be done at all. Republicans everywhere will be praying for Ian Paisley not to buckle, for their continuing relevance depends upon his continuing intransigence.

  • lol, the first 3 paragraphs of Alex Kane’s article look more like a typical Andrew Mc Cann review of the film lol. Are you sure he isn’t getting andy to write his articles 😉

  • Prince Eoghan

    This guy is no film critic. A clown of McCann proportions, yes. Ok Mick he ends up putting across a near credible comment, but why dress it up in panto-type anti-Irishness.

    Is McCann and Kane one and the same? Tune in next week.

  • Lads – the review was written by a unionist, published in a unionist newspaper, to be read by a unionist readership. He’s hardly likely to say that it’s a profound and thought-provoking piece of film-making, is he?

  • Oilbhear Chromaill

    I don’t think unionism merited much of a mention in the Ken Loach’s film because then, as now, unionism was a visceral sectarianism masquerading as a political philosophy, a point perfectly illustrated by Alex Kane’s racist and inaccurate caricatures in this review.

    This is an unashamedly political film and it speaks to the English/British who are disenchanted with the way in which they have been misled by their political leadership, their Establishment, over the years. Ireland is the example of this – what happened in Ireland could so easily happen to parts of the UK, as the Establishment tries to consolidate and defend its morally indefensible position of living off the sweat of the workers.

    The problem that Alex Kane should have with the film is that this is an English director, a radical director even, a politically aware director, who sees through the unionist bluster to the vacuum within. It doesn’t interest him. What does interest him is the genuine story of struggle to overcome oppression on the other side.

    What’s so laughable about it all is that the British Establishment sees Alex and his cronies in exactly the same way as they see the Irish with their clay pipes and digging the fields for potatoes.

  • GrassyNoel

    ….& I’m like, “Yeah Whatever”.

    ‘COS THIS IS MY 32 COUNTY REPUBLIC OF WHATEVUUUUH!!!

  • Mick Fealty

    I’m sure that Alex will take the pantomime knockabout in the spirit it’s intended, but can we follow Oilbhear’s lead and try to focus on the content.

  • Rory

    This is so crass as to almost seem satirical.It reads like a spoof review by the ghost of Porfirio Diaz in exile reviewing Viva Zapata!.

    It is certainly valid of Kane to comment on the DUP strategy (or lack of it) in the Assembly negotiations but hardly a fitting peg on which to hang that particular hat.

  • BooBoo

    A: I don’t think this was intended to be a film review, but rather a hook to hang his weekly column on.

    B: I think Alex makes a fiar point when he says that Loach’s “fist shaking heroine” wouldn’t recognise modern republicanism. Actually I think Loach may be making that very point himself.

    C: I also think he makes a good point—“the meat” as Mick puts it—about an endgame in which neither unionism nor republicanism can win.

    D: As ever on issues “close to home” the very people who berate Alex most for his Paddy-bashing (someone even accused him of racism)are the ones who are most personally vitriolic.

    E: I didn’t like the film either, by the way. Mind you I also thought Hidden Agenda was a pile of crap as well.

    F: For all the abuse heaped on him no-one has actually challenged his opinion that the “fist shaking heroine” would probably regard Adams and Co as traitors to the cause. That may be something to do with the fact that modern republicans probably find that aspects of the film make for uncomfortable viewing.

    G: Jake (post 1) get off your high horse. What the hell does it matter if Alex decides to play around with the title of the film? His column. His rules.

    Top Of The Morning To Yeez,

    BooBoo

  • hovetwo

    I watched this film, as I generally do, without making any attempt to pick up on allegories or the contemporary significance of what was unfolding. My immediate, visceral reaction was that this is a terribly sad film, with a good eye for period detail.

    Of course, the artistic merit (or otherwise) of the film has been drowned out by the politics, not least by Loach himself. I suspect that the film is more balanced than it seems at first glance.

    IIRC not all of the Anti-Treaty characters are “good” socialists – I think Rory, for instance, is annoyed by people trying to uphold the judgement of a Republican court – of course he later shoots boy soldiers of the Pro-Treaty side, so we should’ve known he was a bad ‘un.

    Similarly not all British soldiers are violent thugs – we get a brief glimpse of an officer interrogating Cillian Murphy, who has been traumatised by the Great War, before being replaced by an officer who is clearly made of “sterner” stuff.

    It would have been a better film if there had been more glimpses of humanity from the British troops, and more powerful if the disgust that some of the senior officers felt at counter-terror tactics had been recorded (not least by Brigadier Crozier, who resigned his command of the Auxiliaries).

    I can’t really fault the depiction of the Tans. They were encouraged to act as a counter-terror gang, not go door-to-door selling clothes pegs. In the absence of basic military intelligence they opted for the lazy option of burning down industrial infrastructure and random decimation, in contrast to the operation of most Army Regulars in Munster prior to their arrival.

    The squire was a cartoon figure, although his politics were quite real, and some of the jingoistic rhetoric espoused at the time would make people blush if it was repeated today. I also thought the naive socialist conversations were realistic for that era – certainly the tensions between idealists and gombeen men at a time of economic depression rang true.

    Of course I could be wrong in my impressions – I watched this with a Parent and Baby cinema club in Stillorgan on Thursday morning, surrounded by crying infants. When the film was over, my wife said that if mothers ran the country there would be no wars. Beside us was a friend of my wife, a lovely girl from Yorkshire who cringed from the first scene onwards. We’re hoping they show Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Mans Chest next week.

  • Prince Eoghan

    Hovetwo.

    “The squire was a cartoon figure, although his politics were quite real, and some of the jingoistic rhetoric espoused at the time would make people blush if it was repeated today.”

    You aint looking very hard at all, the same jingoism you speak of is in the wannabee neo-con Unionism of some already mentioned in the above comments.

    Not those leaving the comments;¬)

  • jake

    BooBoo,

    The problem for me is I actually thought I was reading a review of the film not a rant & rave about something masquerading as a review of the film.

    This ain’t his column, this is a piece about his review.

  • Doctor Who

    oilbhear

    “·The problem that Alex Kane should have with the film is that this is an English director, a radical director even, a politically aware director, who sees through the unionist bluster to the vacuum within.”

    Could the word your looking for Loach be Propagandist.

  • Perhaps the real meat is here:

    …….which illustrates the first of the two obstacles which keep the dreary steeples in the Laughing Academy.

    It takes six paragraphs of meandering rant to tenuously lead from a stilted and embarrassingly crude criticism of the movie and to feed into his message.

    “and, by the time it finally abandons electoral posturing and faces up to hard truths,(Kane)

    ….wherein lies the killer obstacle. Your politics is ALL posturing, a complete school of political yoga.

    I favor Paisley’s Ascending NO! pose, meself.

  • Handy man wi a hanky ball

    OK then lets look at it from a Proddy view? You’d never hear the end of it if a movie based on 1690 were made and showed Willie kicking the Crap out of James. Why every time I see a movie about Ireland are the Brits and Tans always the Baddies. What about the slaughter of the civil war? No one ever seeems to remember, or the killing of Protestants down south. Is it selective memories again when it comes to anything Republican.. The movie was a blatant one sided show of republican bias.

  • Prince Eoghan

    wi a hanky.

    It also happened to be substantially true. Some history can be uncomfortable, doesn’t make it go away. Talking of selective memories……,

  • Ed

    Just want to say I saw This film in my local cinema tonight. While I feel that the film accurately portrayed what went on in those times the acting was absolutely terrible. It looked like they just picked up a few local lads and threw them in there especially when that young farm worker is executed for informing. And as for Cillian Murphy…he kept on drifting in and out of his half arsed attempt at a Cork accent. Another thing can we get any balanced review of this film… something other than the usual unionist and republican ranting would be nice for a change. Grow up boys

  • Why every time I see a movie about Ireland are the Brits and Tans always the Baddies. What about the slaughter of the civil war? No one ever seeems to remember, or the killing of Protestants down south. Is it selective memories again when it comes to anything Republican.

    The film shows both those things.

  • GrassyNoel

    Haven’t seen the film yet but saw Angela’s Ashes last night on TV. Absolute RUBBISH movie. You know, it’s hard to credit sometimes, but while people often groan and cringe at the attempts by hollywood to recreate the ‘Oirish Brogue’ effectively, some of the most appalling efforts at Irish accents I have ever witnessed effected on screen in film and TV are actually by Irish actors and actresses???

    How the hell can this possibly be?

  • Nathan

    Tom,

    “Why every time I see a movie about Ireland are the Brits and Tans always the Baddies. What about the slaughter of the civil war? No one ever seeems to remember, or the killing of Protestants down south. Is it selective memories again when it comes to anything Republican.

    The film shows both those things.”

    Hardly – the film merely contains the killing of a token landlord named Sir John on proper grounds i.e. that he colluded with the Crown forces.

    What about those innocent Protestant civilians who were disposed of without any indication of any wrongdoing on their part? Why does the film edit them out of history altogether (although I suppose you can hardly regard this film as a complete account of Anglo-Irish history)

    The IRA was not a bed of roses in the 1920s yet the film fails to admit it. While I’d be the first to say that there were plenty of idealists (like Damien in the film), it also contained a few religiously sectarian head-bangers who caused carnage in places like Bandon, and had it not been for the IRA leadership in West Cork who eventually got wind of the sectarian activity that was taking place in April 1922 and stamped it out, the southern protestant community would have been much smaller than the mere 4-6% that exists today.

  • Humanist

    It is disappointing to read very little detailed reference to Loach’s film here – even from those who complain that Alex Kane did not review the film, but only used it to score political points.

    The details that I found most interesting were the scenes in the film which try to justify the decision of the Die-Hards to ignore the vote in the Dail and the result of the 1922 election, both of which backed the Treaty. Loach had a problem there – how to make anti-democrats look good.

    One scene has the priest telling his parishioners that the Treaty has been endorsed democratically. Our hero, Damien, replies “The people voted out of fear, not out of choice” and storms out of the chapel. Apparently that is all that is needed to ignore a democratic decision which you don’t like, because Damien then joins the Die-Hards and starts killing Staters.

    Another scene has Damien and his mates talking about the reaction of the Volunteers to the Treaty. “The Volunteers in Dublin are 70% against it” we are told. Somehow Loach thinks that this vote in the IRA Council of the time is more important than votes cast in ordinary democratic procedures. A vote among the gunmen is given priority over any popular vote.

    Is Loach trying to make fascism respectable? Scratch a left-wing romantic and you find a little Stalin inside.