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Last Updated: Tuesday, 20 September 2005, 17:45 GMT 18:45 UK
Movie set to reignite civil war debate

Award-winning and radical film director Ken Loach's latest film in production is about the Irish War of Independence and Civil War - and it is likely to ignite intense debate about a brutal period in Irish history, says BBC NI's Diarmaid Fleming.

On location in County Cork, Ken Loach surveys the set of his latest film with the intensity of a man engaged in battle himself, not least against the driving rain.

Ken Loach
Ken Loach's has been filming on location in Cork

Since his groundbreaking BBC television 1960s plays - like Cathy Come Home - he has forged an international reputation for intense and sometimes controversial cinema, dealing with historical, social and political topics.

His Hidden Agenda film about the John Stalker shoot-to-kill investigation provoked vigorous praise and criticism from some in Northern Ireland.

Now Loach has returned to Ireland to film The Wind that Shakes the Barley, a historical drama set in the Irish War of Independence and Civil War.

The period has filled plenty of history books in the 80 years since, and was given the blockbuster treatment nine years ago in the movie Michael Collins.

But Loach's distinctive style - using reality cinema techniques to tell stories through ordinary people's experiences - is intended to bring a new treatment to momentous events in Irish history.

I think it's about how important it was that Ireland shook free of the British hold and the extent to which the British went to keep control of Ireland - which I don't think the British recognise
Ken Loach

"I'm not sure it's been told already. I think it's certainly been written about, but it hasn't been told in the cinema in the way we are going to tell it, which is from the point of view of the ordinary volunteer and the ordinary families," he says on location in Coolea, County Cork.

Apart from the dramatic challenges, there are practical ones too, he says, as the rain begins to pour again.

"The challenge in any film is to get it shot on time - and to keep out of the rain - which seems in west Cork to visit us often," he laughs.

"But it's also to try to have the sense of the time, and the conflicts of the time and the dilemmas, and to tell a story which brings that out in an unforced way."

'Detailed research'

Loach says the film has relevance today, both in the portrayal of an army of occupation - which he says resonates with the war in Iraq - and in examining the legacy of the Treaty which ended the civil war and created the border.

"I think it's about how important it was that Ireland shook free of the British hold and the extent to which the British went to keep control of Ireland - which I don't think the British recognise.

"But of course, the Irish people know all about it - and also the bad consequences of the deal which was forced upon those who negotiated the Treaty by people like Churchill, Lloyd George, Birkenhead and that bunch of gangsters," he maintains.

The era has been romanticised in some Irish historical accounts
The era has been romanticised in some Irish historical accounts

The film is a drama not based on actual events or people, but is intended to be historically accurate in its portrayal of the time - with detailed research carried out by screenwriter Paul Laverty, who has worked with Ken Loach on many other films.

The era has been romanticised in some Irish historical accounts, but Loach says the movie will show the brutal reality of war.

"We certainly hope not to romanticise it because war is vicious, it destroys people, it's very traumatic and there are very contradictory human emotions during this time," says Laverty.

"There's confusion, there's tremendous courage, there were people who were scared and terrified.

"But it's also about trying to figure out what were the roots of the fighting. Why did people have different attitudes to it, what were their politics, what were their values?

"What were they actually fighting for, what sort of Ireland were they trying to create, who was left in power?"

While lead roles are played by stars Cillian Brennan and Liam Cunningham as two brothers involved in the conflict, many local actors have been drafted in.

Loach went to local units of the Irish army reserve to recruit volunteers to play military roles, and the cast includes many who had relations involved in the fighting more than 80 years ago.

Tension on set was heightened however as, under Loach's direction, the actors did not know what was ahead in the script, meaning that "getting the bullet" on set could mean the same to your role in the picture.

Many local actors have been drafted in
Many local actors have been drafted in

"Everyone is on edge - no-one knows what happens next, so a lot of the actors are wondering if their time is up today or not," says Irish army reserve member and actor Denis Kelleher.

"Everyone puts in the best performance because they're thinking: 'This could be my last day' - so the best performance has to be done everyday in case you get the bullet."

Previous Loach films have sometimes won simultaneous praise and criticism. Hidden Agenda won an award at the Cannes Film Festival while being labelled by a Tory MP as "a pro-IRA film".

There is little doubt that Loach's latest feature currently under production after shooting finished, will provoke intense debate when it opens next year in Ireland and internationally.

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