11 May 2011

Icons of our time - Ken Loach.

Ken Loach, multi award winning filmmaker, socialist, pacifist, football fan. Born in Warwickshire in 1936, the son of an electrician, he attended grammar school, did two years in the Royal Air Force and studied law at Oxford University, where he became President of the Dramatic Society. Loach started out in front of the cameras, but swiftly moved into directing, starting out in theatre before moving to the BBC as a trainee television director. Heavily involved in politics, Loach supports the Socialist Resistance, is a patron of several charities including the homeless charity Doorway in his native Nuneaton. He recently made the news voicing his support for the Australian publisher/whistle blower Julian Assange of the wiki leaks scandal in late 2010.
He was awarded a BAFTA fellowship in 2006, but declined an OBE in 1977, in later years explaining: "It's all the things I think are despicable: patronage, deferring to the monarchy and the name of the British Empire, which is a monument of exploitation and conquest." Loach to me, is the people's director, literally. He makes powerful films with a political point. Loach is a supporter and shareholder for his local side Bath City of the Blue Square Premier. ( crikey, we're playing them next season)

We have had some great filmmakers in the UK, Mike Leigh for his character studies and realism, Alan Clarke for his social realism spring to mind. Ken Loach gets it spot on. Challenging, bleak, humorous, heartfelt, influential, direct and emotional. He is a genius in that respect, if you don't recognise the actors, you could be forgiven for thinking they were even acting in the first place, the same could be said of the script. Using a close working relationship with his scriptwriters, his films often rely on a clever script, so cunning you'd think it were unscripted. Filmed often using unknown actors, usually with a genuine connection to the subject they appear in. He gets the very best out of his actors, many have gone on to bigger things. This is all part of the genuine realism and naturalistic approach -a trademark style of all of his films. Give me a good indie drama over the crappy CGI infested shite at the multiplexes any day and every day.
Loach has produced some of the most memorable work of all his peers, shunning Hollywood in the process. Tackling tough subjects along the way, across the country and beyond, be it the miners strike, homelessness and unemployment, important social issues are a recurring theme in his films. During the 80's he went back to his documentarian roots and produced several telling documentaries, several of which were deemed controversial, banned or withdrawn. Kes (1969) one of the greatest films ever if you ask me, widely regarded as a masterpiece. The best thing to happen to the town of Barnsley other than their promotion to the Premiership.
'An Eagle for an Emperor, a Gyrfalcon for a King:
a Peregrine for a Prince, & a Saker for a Knight,
a Merlin for a lady, a Goshawk for a Yeoman,
a Sparrowhawk for a Priest, a Musket for a holy water Clerk & a Kestrel for a Knave.
-- the boke of St Albans 1486
This is one of those you can watch at any given time, or if it's on the telly you will end up sat with it - despite it being on the shelf, is arguably his most famous film. Loach came to prominence with the heartbreaking Cathy Come Home, a downward spiral of homelessness and a system that does not work, the charity Shelter was founded just a week after it's frst screening in 1965.

Raining Stones (1993) set in a Manchester estate, shows the daily struggles of a poor couple trying to raise the money for for their child's first communion dress. I love that film, it's as real as it gets, spot on. Written by Jim Allen who's from the Langley estate in which is was filmed on location. Bruce Jones, who most would know typecast as a former Corrie actor, does a star turn in his feature film debut. Raining Stones and Riff Raff (1991) are tied together by Ricky Tomlinson, who will unintentionally have you in stitches in both films, a great drama based in London following different folk from different backgrounds just trying to earn an honest day's wage. Exposing the poor living conditions of the poor
class and basic labours rights, and it's got Willy Ross in it.

I once met Bruce Jones (who's from the same town) in a town centre pub, as I approached, he was pretty stand-offish, politely telling me without hesitation that 'Les' was on a hanger at Granada studios and he was just having a quiet pint or three. I mentioned I wasn't too fussed by the localish set soap nor in particular the Battersby clan he was part of, but I was a fan of his work in independent British cinema, notably Raining Stones and Shane Meadows' 24/7 were mentioned, his face lit up. I wasn't just another sycophantic soap bore ignorantly expecting him to answer to his screen name or churn out a tacky one liner, I wanted to talk about the stuff he was actually most proud of and his earlier television work. From looking like he originally wanted to tell me to piss off, to then offering me a pint, as he happily nattered about working with the likes of Ken Loach and Bob Hoskins and sitting behind Nicolas Cage at the Cannes Film Festival. It was a surreal, but great little experience, an interesting guy with a story to tell. Raining Stones is an excellent drama, and they should be proud of it. The strange casting of former Premiership footballer surprised many in Looking for Eric (2009) as a football obsessed postman turns to his hero as his life around him is descending into chaos.

Tough and thought provoking political issues are tackled head on in Hidden Agenda (1990) set during the troubles in Northern Ireland. After the murder of an American civil rights activist, it unravels into a political conspiracy, exposing corruption at the highest level government, inspired by the RUC's alleged 'shoot to kill' policy. Land And Freedom (1995) the Spanish civil war epic posthumously told from the perspective of a recently deceased elderly Liverpudlian communist in flashback, narrative form, who went to join the fight against fascism with the International Brigade against Franco's dictatorship in mid 1930's Spain. More recent work has included The Wind That Shakes the Barley (2006) an Irish civil war drama which won the Palm d'Or. An important and accurate historical study of a social uprising, expressing themes from the period as opposed to the situation itself. Loach's most recent film Route Irish (2010) tackles the recent Iraq war and private security contractors coming to terms with the brutality and the exploitation of modern war. I could go on and on about Ken Loach films all day, you will have seen at least one regardless, but if you haven't watch one, then you'll watch another, and another, he probably wouldn't like this, but he's a national institution.

Sixteen Films, Ken Loach IMDb
Ken Loach - Director selected filmography.
2010 Route Irish
2009 Looking for Eric
2007 It's a Free World...
2006 The Wind That Shakes the Barley
2005 McLibel (documentary)

2005 Tickets
2004 Ae Fond Kiss...
2002 Sweet Sixteen
2001 The Navigators
2000 Bread and Roses
1998 My Name Is Joe
1996 Carla's Song
1995 Land and Freedom
1994 Ladybird Ladybird
1993 Raining Stones
1991 Riff-Raff
1990 Hidden Agenda
1986 Fatherland
1985 Which Side Are You On?
1980 The Gamekeeper
1979 Black Jack
1969 Kes
1966 Cathy Come Home
1967 Poor Cow
1964 Diary of a Young Man (TV series)


  1. Nice Job mate, well written. Added plus I got here via Valetmag.com glad to see you get state-side props ;-)

    aka cubic202

  2. Kes is my joint top film of all time.

    It's flawless.
    The humour is perfectly pitched against the grim world of the boy.