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

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