Renowned film-maker Ken Loach has hit back at British press criticism of his award-winning film on the War of Independence.
The 69-year-old director said some of the criticism had been of an “amazingly vitriolic and personal nature”.
He said it had been movitated by a “deep-seated imperialist guilt” over the partition of Ireland and the subsequent years of conflict that had resulted.
Mr Loach said the British government should now acknowledge that partition had failed. He said the unionist veto on political progress should be replaced by a way of “unravelling the sad legacy of the 1921 Treaty.”
‘The Wind That Shakes the Barley’ won the prestigious Palme d’Or award at the Cannes film festival last Sunday but was attacked by several tabloid newspapers this week. Mr Loach, an Englishman, was accused of being anti-British.
The film depicts events during the IRA’s guerrilla campaign against British rule during the 1920s. It stars Cillian Murphy as an Irish medical student who takes up arms against a reign of terror by the Black and Tans, the notorious auxiliary force sent in to suppress the movement for independence.
A series of vitriolic attacks on the director by several right-wing tabloids followed. The Sun said the film had a plot “designed to drag the reputation of our nation through the mud”.
“It portrays British soldiers as trigger-happy mercenaries hooked on torture, burning cottages for kicks and using pliers to rip out the toenails of innocent Irish victims.
“At the same time, cold-blooded republican butchers star as figures of heroic bravery,” wrote columnist Harry MacAdam.
The Independent said the film’s graphic depiction of the Black and Tans had “come across like a recruiting campaign for the IRA”.
Ruth Dudley Edwards, writing in the Daily Mail, accused the director of contriving to portray the “British as sadists and the Irish as romantic, idealistic resistance fighters” to suit a political agenda.
Mr Loach said the criticism had not once challenged the veracity of the film.
“Not one of the criticisms managed to directly challenge the script’s content. It was instead based on vitriolic personal attacks and inaccuracies,” the director said.
“Ruth Dudley Edwards’ piece, in particular, was amazing. I never, as she claimed, had four films banned by the BBC or was a member of the Socialist Workers Party, for example.”
Mr Loach said the press coverage had been a “knee-jerk reaction” by those who were incapable of facing Britain’s colonial past and who felt threatened by being confronted with aspects of their own history.
“Exposing colonialism in its brutality is something the British ruling class react violently against. Guilt is embedded deeply in the consciousness of the political class,” Mr Loach said.
He added that Ireland held a special place among the colonies because society was still living with the legacy of colonialism and this also accounted for the media reaction.
“People can only understand the conflict in the North by understanding its roots in the Treaty. Once people do, it makes it harder for others to represent the Irish conflict as a case of ‘the Irish just can’t get along’. It may account therefore for some of the press hostility,” he said.