The Wind That Shakes the Barley

Critics Consensus

Bleak and uncompromising, but director Ken Loach brightens his film with gorgeous cinematography and tight pacing, and features a fine performance from Cillian Murphy.



Total Count: 114


Audience Score

User Ratings: 36,889
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Movie Info

Ireland 1919: workers from field and country unite to form volunteer guerrilla armies to face the ruthless 'Black and Tan' squads that are being shipped from Britain to block Ireland's bid for independence. Driven by a deep sense of duty and a love for his country, Damien abandons his burgeoning career as a doctor and joins his brother, Teddy, in a dangerous and violent fight for freedom. As the freedom fighters' bold tactics bring the British to breaking point, both sides finally agree to a treaty to end the bloodshed. But, despite the apparent victory, civil war erupts and the families, who fought side by side, find themselves pitted against one another as sworn enemies, putting their loyalties to the ultimate test.


Cillian Murphy
as Damien O'Donovan
Padraic Delaney
as Teddy O'Donovan
Mary Murphy
as Bernadette
Aidan O'Hare
as Steady Boy
Keith Dunphy
as Terence
Frank O'Sullivan
as Man in Pub
Gary McCarthy
as Volunteer
Tim O'Mahon
as Volunteer
Sean McGinley
as Father Denis
Graham Browne
as Volunteer
Owen Buckley
as Volunteer
Denis Kelleher
as Volunteer
Colin McClery
as Volunteer
Finbar O'Mahon
as Volunteer
John Quinlan
as Volunteer
Peggy Lynch
as Singer at Wake
Noel O'Donovan
as Station Guard
Barry Bourke
as Policeman
Corina Gough
as Woman in Search
Roger Allam
as Sir John Hamilton
William Ruane
as Johnny Gogan
Dan O'Riordan
as Elderly Man
Peg Crowley
as Elderly Woman
Kieran Ahmem
as Sweeney
Clare Dineen
as Mrs. Rafferty
Tomas Ohealaithe
as Boy on Bike
Nora Lynch
as Mother of Sick Child
Barry Looney
as Member of Ceilidh Band
Connie O'Connail
as Member of Ceilidh Band
Aine O'Connor
as Member of Ceilidh Band
Frances O'Connor (II)
as Member of Ceilidh Band
O'Riada Peadr
as Member of Ceilidh Band
Neil Brand
as Newsreel Piano Accompanist
Tom Chamock
as British Soldier Sergeant at Cottage
Alan Ready
as British Soldier Sergeant at Station
Mark Wakeling
as British Soldier Lieutenant
Anthony Byrne
as British Soldier Interrogator
Marcus Anthony
as British Soldier
Bill Armstrong
as British Soldier
Christopher Brown
as British Soldier
Mark Bryce
as British Soldier
Alex Dee
as British Soldier
Jonny Holmes
as British Soldier
Allan Huntley
as British Soldier
Bill Hurst
as British Soldier
Daniel Kington
as British Soldier
Jamie Lomas
as British Soldier
Anthony Martin
as British Soldier
Owen McQuade
as British Soldier
Richard Oldham
as British Soldier
Colin Parry
as British Soldier
Scott Peden
as British Soldier
Bernie Sweeney
as British Soldier
Derek Taylor
as British Soldier
Neil Alan Taylor
as British Soldier
Gregor Wood
as British Soldier
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News & Interviews for The Wind That Shakes the Barley

Critic Reviews for The Wind That Shakes the Barley

All Critics (114) | Top Critics (37) | Fresh (102) | Rotten (12)

Audience Reviews for The Wind That Shakes the Barley

  • May 30, 2016
    Interesting story. I would recommend this if you're interested in Irish history or the rebellion.
    Stephen S Super Reviewer
  • Apr 20, 2014
    I don't know if that title sounds more war movie or Irish, but either way, it's stereotype in top form. Even when you look up the ballad that is not related to the 20th century conflict portrayed in this film, you can't figure it out, because it remains Irish and about some form of rebellion, even though it's set during 1798. Jeez, come to think of it, maybe we shouldn't make that big of a deal about sustainability in Ireland, because it seems as though barley fields are a popular place to hold bloody conflicts, which isn't to say that you can go far in Ireland to avoid warfare. Actually, I think that this film shows that the Brits and Irish aren't too bad off lately, because it's a joint British and Irish project, although it is nevertheless about Ireland's war for independence. I like how this film is supposed to be about as independent as it is startlingly Irish, yet the Brits are still calling a lot of the shots. I can just see the many, many Irish actors in this film getting into an argument with English director Ken Loach and ending up setting up some kind of a combat sequence right in the middle of the studio, but I highly doubt that happened, because I'd figure you could feel that intensity on the screen, and this film isn't quite that exciting. No, this film is pretty decent, as well as it should be if it's going to win the Palme d'Or, but you must remember that this film won the Palme d'Or, so it can't be too exciting of a war film, and sure enough, not unlike Ireland, it's got some troubles. Looking at the magnitude of this subject matter, I was a little surprised to find that the film doesn't even cross the 130-minute mark, though not as much as I was surprised to find that the final product actually has to drag its feet to achieve a runtime that long, weighed down by a touch too much material that begins to feel superfluous when it begins to feel repetitious. There's little momentum to pacing, even in Paul Laverty's script, and pacing is all but stiffened by dry spells in Ken Loach's atmospheric storytelling, which is not as cold as I feared it would be, but still rather dull, with a quiet chill that proves to be a directorial touch that is about as bland as such other directorial touches as overt realism. By that, I mean that the film attempts to project a sense of naturalism through minimal stylization and less polished dramatics, whose intentionally realistic lack of coherency and sense of dramatic punch is often pretty effective in immersing you, but just as often monotonous in sending storytelling meandering down a path that is lacking in theatrics. Of course, when Loach tries to get theatrical in atmosphere, he, as irony would have it, often gets carried away, bearing down with George Fenton's overblown score and almost gratuitously brutal imagery, until subtlety is shaken up worse than the titular barley, reflecting more dramatic ambition than dramatic laziness, but nonetheless doing an injustice to the potential genuineness of this drama. What does, however, reflect dramatic laziness is, of all things, a lack of originality, because as hard as the film tries to meditate, craft realism and hammer on the resonance, is doesn't put that much effort into freshening up this war drama, which collapses into tropes in characterization, storytelling and so on and so forth, until familiarity reinforces blandness. Yes, people, when it's all said and done, the big problem with this film is its being kind of bland, not to where you can't be adequately compelled, but certainly to where potential is lost for the sake of an ambition for thoughtfulness that gets carried away, and isn't even unique. I suppose the final product should be kind of forgettable, but as it stands, while it's still underwhelming, what it does right leaves quite the impression, even an aesthetic one. Well, as much as people praise Barry Ackroyd's cinematography, the blanding realist filmmaking settles the flare of Ackroyd's efforts, which are still pretty effective and rugged, with a subtle bleakness that is near-haunting by its own right and near-instrumental in the selling of this subject matter's grit and depth as a drama of considerable weight. Stories of this nature have been practically done to death, and to be honest, hardly anything new is done in this interpretation, and yet, the value of the story concept cannot be denied, as this portrait on the Irish's brutal conflicts with the English and even among themselves during the Irish War of Independence and subsequent Irish Civil War holds potential as a political and moral affair dealing with downfalls in both society and humanity. The idea of this film is more worthy than the execution, although it's not like the execution is especially messy or underwhelming, for even Paul Laverty's scripting, while unevenly paced and not too flavorful in other areas, carries an audacity to set piece designs and characterization that get pretty deep into the grime of this war portrait, anchored by humanly inspired performances. Now, by humanly inspired, I mean that the performances, like the storytelling, also prove to be too naturalist to be all that biting, but they're still worthy, with commitment and range that sells the brutality of the individuals who drive this portrait on humanity's instability, particularly Cillian Murphy. Charismatic, subtly effective and convincing as both a passionate leader and fearing citizen, Murphy isn't given a lot to do, but he's a worthy head to a cast full of worthy performances which, of course, drive much of the depth of this very human drama, yet cannot do so alone. Ken Loach's direction is lacking on purpose, with a dryness and realism that works to near-ethereally immerse, yet ends up distancing about as much as anything, until the final product falls into underwhelmingness, but not too deep, to where resonance is ever fully lost, for Loach's uncompromising attention to brutality and more realized moments in often unsubtle dramatic kick is recurring enough to tense, if not compel, drawing you into worthy subject matter and establishing intrigue, until it becomes more difficult to fall out of the drama than it is to get invested in the drama. Now, with that said, falling out of the film is still easy enough to do for the final product to reward, and that's a shame, because there's a lot of potential, ultimately done enough justice to make a drama that, while improvable, is still pretty engaging. When the wind calms, the final product collapses into underwhelmingness under the pressure of structural dragging, directorial dry spells, and issues in both overt realism and overblown subtlety behind storytelling that isn't even all that unique, but on the backs of ruggedly bleak visuals, some tasteful scripting, strong acting and some effective highlights in uncompromising directorial storytelling, Ken Loach's "The Wind That Shakes the Barley" stands as a flawed, but still reasonably effective and adequately memorable account of the more significant years in Ireland's fight for independence. 2.75/5 - Decent
    Cameron J Super Reviewer
  • Apr 27, 2013
    Though many films have been made on the subject, The Wind That Shakes the Barley is certainly one of the best takes on the struggle for Irish independence. The movie is unflinching in its look at the struggle, not shying away from the many family and political dynamics that made it such a complex time. It's often hard to watch, but never ceases to engage. This is due to the solid direction by Ken Loach, which keeps the film moving at a brisk pace, but not too fast. The scene orchestration is excellent, the scenes develop organically and feel well realized. This is complemented by beautiful cinematography, which captures the amazing landscape, while also transporting us perfectly to 1920s Ireland. The performances from all around are moving, especially by Cillian Murphy, who brings a considerable dramatic weight to every scene. We're almost transfixed by his earnestness, impressed with his dedication, and fascinated by his unwavering nature. He is complemented well by the rest of the cast, all of whom embody characters that are not polished, clichéd, or pretty, but real. If the film accomplishes anything, it's that it feels real. The script also has an effective balance between being a drama, and a historical telling. The story centers around two brothers, but the conflict between them feels organic, we see the ambiguity of their later actions, feel their pain. The dialogue is also appropriate to the people, not losing a sense that this was a struggle, of more than anything, of the common people. A highly effective historical piece. 4/5 Stars
    Jeffrey M Super Reviewer
  • Nov 28, 2011
    A well-done, powerful story concerning the battle for Ireland amongst the IRA (led by Cillian Murphy) against the power-hungry British during the 1920's. Director Ken Loach picked out some really gorgeous backdrops to film this story, and this add to his overall epic scope concerning the themes of loyalty, freedom, and family. Murphy's wonderful turn can not be understated, as he remains a scrawny but intense hero whose shift in character is handled exceptionally well. The movie overall is not a masterpiece, given it has some slow parts as well as a mega-depressing ending that needed a little more closure. Still a fine film in many respects, and definitely worth a view.
    Dan S Super Reviewer

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