Wednesday 2 March 2011

The Essential Ken Loach

Ken Loach is national treasure. This is a fact no one will dispute. From the searing social realism of Cathy Come Home, the heartbreaking ending to Kes and winning the Palm d’Or for The Wind That Shakes The Barley, he is arguable Britain’s greatest living filmmaker. His new film ROUTE IRISH is released on 18 March, and shows that the great man is still fiercely relevant, as he takes on the thorny issue of the war in Iraq. In celebration of its release, and his career as a whole, we take a look at essential Ken Loach films...

Cathy Come Home
Having started out as an actor, Loach quickly moved into television directing, helming several episodes of the classic British cop show Z-Cars. But it with this episode of the BBC’s drama strand The Wednesday Play that proved to be his breakthrough. Shot in a then-revolutionary hand held style that made it feel more like a current affairs show than a drama, this powerful tale of a young mother struggling on the poverty line brought controversial issues such as homelessness and unemployment to national attention at a time when such things were not openly discussed.

After the success of Cathy Come Home Loach was able to move into feature films, and his second feature was this much loved adaptation of Barry Hines Barnsley-set novel A Kestrel For A Knave. It is classic Loach, human and heartbreaking with a strong left-wing undercurrent. The heart wrenching ending is all the more powerful as Loach made child actor David Bradley believe that he had actually killed the bird, which by then the young actor had become rather attached to.

Loach is very much known for tackling difficult issues and emotional turmoil, but he definitely has a lighter side, which is shown in this comedy drama with early turns from Robert Carlyle and The Royle Family’s Ricky Tomlinson. Carlyle stars as a Scottish labourer who comes down to work on a building site in London. That fact that he’s building luxury apartments on the site of old terrace housing underlines the film’s strong anti-Thatcherite undercurrent.

Ladybird Ladybird
Loach returned to the topic of struggling parenthood and the role of social services he tackled years earlier with this powerful, heartbreaking tale of mother trying to keep custody of her children. Crissy Rock gives a sensational performance as a woman who helplessly bounces between destructive relationships, whilst struggling to look after her four children from four different fathers.

My Name Is Joe
Peter Mullan (director of recent Glaswegian gang film Neds) is superb in the titular role of this Scotland set love story, playing a recovering alcoholic trying to get his life back on a track who falls in love with a heath visitor. It’s a sweet, touching film, but due to the harsh Glaswegian accents it is usually shown subtitled in North America!

Sweet Sixteen
Another Glasgow set film, and another typically superb humanist tale from Loach about a lad from a difficult background growing up north of the boarder. The film caused controversy over its level of swearing (there are over 300 uses of the F-word) and as a result it received an 18 certificate, despite not featuring any notable sexual content or violence. This particularly incensed Loach, as it meant many of the disadvantaged Scottish teenagers he worked with whilst writing the film were legally unable to go and see it.

Ae Fond Kiss
Taking its title from Scottish poet Robert Burns, Ae Fond Kiss is possible Loach’s sweetest, most tender film. The tale of a devout Muslim Pakistani DJ and a Catholic school teacher who fall in love, by its very nature the film deals with issues of prejudice and family, but it’s the chemistry and the intimacy between the two leads, played by Atta Yaqub and Eva Birthistle respectively, that is truly the heart of the film.

The Wind That Shakes The Barley
Loach stepped out of his comfort zone with this Cillian Murphy-starring period drama set in the Irish War of Independence. The film received as certain amount of controversy before its release, with Loach being accused of being anti-British, and one critic even comparing him to notorious Nazi-propaganda director Leni Riefenstahl! It however went on to win the Palm d’Or at the 2006 Cannes Film festival, and was Loach’s biggest commercial success to date.

Looking For Eric
Possibly Loach’s most accessible feature, Looking For Eric stars former member of new band The Fall Steve Evets as a divorced postman who, at his darkest hour, is visit by a vision of Eric Cantona, played by the Manchester United legend himself. Atypically whimsical for Loach, it was released in the UK six weeks after The Damned United, meaning that the two greatest ever films about football came out in the space of just two months.

Route Irish
Loach latest film debuted at last year’s Cannes Film Festival to great acclaim. Proving that even after making films for over 40 years he still as relevant as ever, the film focuses on the car in Iraq, and in particular British private contractors who work in the area. Like the rest of Loach’s filmography it features superb performances (including several from real life veterans themselves) and doesn’t shy away from the serious subject, but the flashbacks to Iraq are suitably tense and action packed, showing a side to Loach we haven’t seen before.

Route Irish is released on 18 March 2011.

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