National Identity and the Anglo-Irish Representation in Ken Loach's "The Wind that Shakes the Barley"

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2015

15 Pages, Grade: 2,3


Table of contents

1. Introduction

2. Theoretical Background: National identity and its relation to film
2. 1. National identity
2.2. The heritage film

3. Case Study:The Wind That Shakes the Barley
3.1. Textual Side
3.2 Contextual side
3.3. TWTSB as heritage film
3.4. Social realist film

4. Conclusion

5. Sources

1. Introduction

“I think the only reason to make films that are a reflection on history is to talk about the present. “Ken Loach (Chapman, 1)

The concept of national identity is one of the most interesting in the field of media study as it is both shaping and shaped by it. However, the question of why and how film and national identity are related is the focus of this case study concerning The Wind That Shakes The Barley (TWTSB). With the help of the film this paper aims to depict the complexity of national identity in the contemporary globalised media. Especially the contrast between the textual and the contextual side will be taken into account to establish a critical representation of the British. There will be different questions addressed; starting with the development of national identity with its relation to media on a more theoretical basis. Secondly, the case study will be analysed with regards to the Anglo-Irish relationship. Although the film appears to be in favour of the Irish revolution in the War of Independence it is the contextual side which highlights the complexity and actuality of the British representation. Therefore, the last chapter will show how director Ken Loach and screenwriter Paul Laverty use the Irish perspective to criticise their own national history. Here, Irish national identity is constructed via an outsider’s perspective. Hence, national identity is re-constructed to depict rather global issues of oppressing working classes by the ruling class.

2. Theoretical Background: National identity and its relation to film

2. 1. National identity

Identity is an ever-changing process for the individual as well as for groups. National identity is no exception to that rule although there might be certain national “tracks” which are consistent over a long period of time. This ambiguity of recreation and tradition is a central characteristic of identity in general and especially in regard to the nation. A person’s identity is changed while experiencing different stages of life but may stay the same regarding, for example, social background. One will never able to change where one comes from, where and how one grows up. However, identity consists not only of the social background. Coming back to the concept of national identity, Anthony Smith considers it to be of the “most fundamental and inclusive [of the collective identities]”(Richards, 1). This refers to connection of the nation as a formal concept and the people living in it. There might be several group identities for the citizens but the overall concept is the national identity to which all of them contribute.(See Richards, 1f.) However, the individual identity of a nation is often immensely important for building up a nation state with a feeling of solidarity. After finding out what characteristics make out a nation’s identity they could be spread and promoted in several ways through media. (See Richards, 2)

Modern nations are too vast and too populated for all their citizens to know each other. Consequently, national identity must be imaginative which can be enforced by media in particular. Especially mass media like films are able to reach a great number of people and enable them to relate to certain topics in a similar way. In that context, times of crisis or war are highly important because they differentiate between a “we” against “the others”. Therefore, films contributing to national identity often take up previous conflicts or wars to emphasize the fight bravely. As Andrew Higson states, “social and cultural differences [...] seem less significant than what is shared”( 1998, 354) This puts a positive focus on the shared national identity rather than dividing features. Regarding TWTSB, this aspect is highly interesting due to its being set in the Irish War of Independence but being directed by a British.

It is clear that national identity is something constructed by a community. However, there are two more aspects: “The first involves an inward-looking process, defining the nation in terms of its own internal cultural history.”(Higson 1998, 358). This can be seen as a positive definition because it relates to the idea the people have of the nation itself. On the other hand, “the second is a more out-ward looking process, defining the nation in terms of its difference from others.”(Higson 1998, 358). Therefore, the second process characterises the nation in a more negative way, as it always needs a counterpart to exist and to define itself. In the context of the Irish national identity, the second aspect can be seen as highly important because of Ireland's close relationship to Great Britain. Ireland and Great Britain share a long history where Ireland is usually the defeated party. This feeling of being colonised by the English is one of the main characteristics of the Irish national identity which can especially be seen in TWTSB. In addition to sharing a specific history or attitude, “recognizing as familiar the established indigenous cultural traditions of that homeland and community”(Higson 1998, 358) plays into the concept of national identity. The media displays and shares this cultural traditions often with the specific label of being “British” or “Irish” and therefore promote the national identity in positive lights. In that context media also relies on the history of representations, meaning the characteristics which were presented as typical before. Sometimes these characteristics of the own and other nations reinforce stereotypes and clichés. Nevertheless, they often enable the audience to recognise the origin of character. Of course, the negative stereotypes are usually used in regard to the outer or contrasting creation of national identity. Still, there are genres like satire or comedy in which the own clichés are challenged.

2.2. The heritage film

For that reason, the genres of heritage and history film are of interest for the later film analysis. During the 1980s, a new successful movement started in British film depicting certain events in the (British) past, e.g. Chariots of Fire (1981) which focused on the gold-winning runner’s team of the Olympic games of 1924. However, this kind of film ranks from mainstream successes to art-house films raising the question of what constitutes a history or heritage film and how Britishness should be portrayed. Andrew Higson limits heritage films to films regarding the time before the Second World War and concern mostly with Europe and Britain as culturally and historically rich places, “retelling old stories about its monarchs, for instance, and adapting its canonical literature”(2003, 4). Moreover, they usually belong to the low-budget production including an aesthetic aspiration although they might be produced by an international company. James Chapman adds to this “that a historical film is one that is based, however loosely, on actual historical events or real historical persons”(Chapman, 4). Keeping that in mind “national identity and self-sufficiency have become vulnerable to the new supremacy of global information flows, and the power of increasingly multinational grids of investment, production and marketing”(Corner and Harvey, 336). Especially the later aspect refers to the increasingly international production of British film. In a more and more globalised world, the history film links national identity to great events of the past. Here, the role of the media in constructing national identity comes into play and “perhaps this simply underlines rather more obviously the constructed nature of representations of the English national past, which, in an era of intense globalisation, is perhaps inevitable”(Higson 2003, 5). All of these films concentrate on different aspects of national identity which differs from positive to negative representations of the British or related identity. Furthermore, identity is never firm but an ever-changing concept. However, pointing to the threat of losing one’s identity in a globalised world, going back to something familiar and special is a main interest of the rise of history films.[1] Apparently, the going back in time often occurs in times of crisis or change. Regarding that, it is clear “that a historical feature film will often have as much to say about the present in which it was made as about the past in which it was set.”(Chapman, 1). Although the historical film may contain fictional elements, e.g. the two brother in TWTSB, it “deploys visual style to create a sense of historical verisimilitude”(Chapman, 4) which contribute to the authenticity of the film. This again stresses the link between historical films and national identity because the film “is not merely offering a representation of the past; in most instances it is offering a representation of a specifically national past” where “national histories are fiercely protected and contested.”(Chapman, 6). In that context it is but natural to speak of certain myths being retold which add to the concept of the imagined community.[2] This concept by Aleida Assmann explains the formation of a collective cultural memory which consists of remembrance and oblivion. Again, the positive aspects of the national memory are highlighted and repeated whereas more negative ones are ‘forgotten’.(see Assmann).


[1] “The unity which heritage celebrates is both historical and therefore a focus for contemplation (England is connected-in-unity with the past and its values) and contemporarily active (the English have certain central responsibilities and delights in common - 'Explore the past, enjoy the present and protect the future' enjoins the English Heritage membership campaign).” In: John Corner and Sylvia Harvey: Mediating Tradition and Modernity: the Heritage/Enterprise Couplet. p.339.

[2] “The use of the word ‘myths’ in this context should not imply that historical films have no basis in fact, but rather that they tend to endorse narratives that accord with popular views of history.” Chapman, James: National identity and the British Historical Film, p.7.

Excerpt out of 15 pages


National Identity and the Anglo-Irish Representation in Ken Loach's "The Wind that Shakes the Barley"
University of Leipzig  (Anglistik)
British Media, Culture
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
1111 KB
Irish film, Anglo-Irish, identity
Quote paper
Jana Schäfer (Author), 2015, National Identity and the Anglo-Irish Representation in Ken Loach's "The Wind that Shakes the Barley", Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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