A polemic rather than a drama, about a blameless Irish lad who becomes a Republican after seeing with his own eyes what the British are up to. Cillian Murphy plays the lad, peaceable to the point of cowardice, the prospective medical student who is caught up in the struggle to get the Brits out of Ireland in the 1920s. His brother (Pádraic Delaney) meanwhile heads off in the other direction – initially bellicose but softening his stance when a political compromise (a “sell out”) is brokered. Director Ken Loach’s film is partisan to the point of ludicrousness – at one point the Brits are depicted swooshing by in cars with their heads tilted upwards in the cinematic shorthand reserved for Nazi officers. Worse than that the film is also quite stupendously dull. Though it has received good reviews in quarters where any fight against colonial powers, any depiction of the Irish as good, any kicking of the Brits (it was a long time ago, guys) gets nodded through. Loach, generally a director at his worst when he’s wagging the finger, efficiently brings writer/collaborator Paul Laverty’s dry screenplay to life, a mix of battles out in the overcast countryside and verbal jousts back in the bars, courtrooms and churches of the urban landscape. Murphy is saddled with a one-ply character and is incapable of doing much with it. The blame here is squarely with Laverty, whose last feature-length collaboration with Loach was Ae Fond Kiss, another conversion of a social issue (marriage between a white woman and Asian man) into leaden drama.
© Steve Morrissey 2013