Wind That Shakes the Barley writer on the 'big decision' and thorough research in making the film
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"We had brilliant actors, great support from the community. It was a real joy to make."
During a previous interview with Blindboy, Cillian Murphy gave a fascinating insight into how Ken Loach directed the cast of his award-winning drama, The Wind that Shakes the Barley.
"His method is kind of unique but quite well known, we never get the script. A script exists - scenes are written, they're not improvised - but the actors aren't given the scripts. I knew that my character in the film was a doctor but I never knew where his politics lay until the film progressed. That's why the performances felt so real because events are sort of unfolding right in front of your eyes and you react in an emotional, non-intellectual way and that's where the truth exists," said Murphy.
In terms of why The Wind That Shakes the Barley remains so popular, the concept of the truth is a large reason why, especially when it comes to the film's depiction of the violence perpetrated by the Black and Tans.
For those that haven't seen the Palme d'Or-winning film, the story is set in Ireland 1919.
Workers from the field and country unite to form volunteer 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 (Cillian Murphy) abandons his burgeoning career as a doctor and joins his brother, Teddy (Pádraic Delaney), 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. However, as we all know, even more bloodshed was inevitable. 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.
With his new film Sorry We Missed You currently in Irish cinemas, the screenwriter of The Wind That Shakes the Barley, Paul Laverty, sat down with JOE to talk about the making of the film and even before a second of footage was filmed of the Civil War drama, Laverty felt a degree of pressure to tell the story right.
"I felt an enormous responsibility, you know, to try and give it a good crack because I knew that we would only get one chance at it. I owe a great debt of gratitude to a wonderful historian, Donal Ó Drisceoil. He's a great writer and a great lad who wears his learning very easily. He helped us a lot in Jimmy's Hall too. But you have to do the research yourself too but having Donal alongside - someone who got what we were trying to do - was very important."
Laverty said that while researching the film, he went out and walked through the exact same routes that members of flying columns did in real life.
"You have to dive in and read the books because everything is conflicted and contested. Also, when it's not your immediate experience, you just have to try and put yourself in those shoes. I went to the museums, read the poetry, talked to the children of the people in the flying columns, looked at the photographs, listened to the music. What was really key was actually walking in the ambush sites and seeing what it was like to go out walking during February and March in Cork. It was absolutely bloody freezing!" he said.
Rather than just see this as some sort of screenwriter bootcamp, Laverty said that the experience of walking in these freezing conditions actually informed the characters that he was about to write on the page.
As he saw it, the harsh and unforgiving conditions were better suited for younger men.
"It was very good because I realised what it was like if you were on the run in this weather, trying to survive British occupation. You've an army that's chasing you and looking out for you. I said to myself 'this is a young man's game."
Clip via Volta VOD
While heavily based on history, family stories, and various different accounts of the War of Independence and Civil War, Laverty and Loach have never said that their film was a documentary, or an adaptation of a story that's based on a real life account of events.
Granted, it's an extremely engaging, honest, and accurate representation of the brutality of war, but the decision not to base the events on a real life people was very deliberate.
In fact, it was the key decision that the screenwriter had to make when approaching the subject matter.
"The big decision really was if we did someone's life, people would say 'ah, that didn't happen that year,' or 'he didn't speak to them.' So, we had to try and be historically accurate and have enough space for the fictional stuff. We had fictional characters but I did a biography for each character - even the small characters - so we knew where they were coming from.
"For example, the experience of a son of a farmer would be completely different to the son of a labourer, or a doctor - like Damien and the brothers. So, to have space for that and also to try and cover the War of Independence and the Civil War was a really tricky thing to do but Ken was in top form, we had brilliant actors, great support from the community, Donal Ó Drisceoil was great, and it was a real joy.
"It was also very important because a lot of women had been written out of republican history. You know, women in the communities who supported these men, passed messages and risked their lives. So, that was very key to us as well and we found examples of brilliant, really strong and vibrant women."
13 years since its release, The Wind That Shakes the Barley continues to be extremely popular with Irish film fans.
We think Laverty's scriptwriting decisions have been vindicated.
For anyone that's interested in seeing Paul Laverty's latest work, Sorry We Missed You is now available to watch in Irish cinemas.
Here's a look at what's in store.
Clip via Entertainment One UK
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