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September 06, 2008
Ken Loach (1936- )
(Please note this is a relaunch of an old page although there are some additions. The relaunch was due to an inadvertant mistake in constructing the original page that I couldn't get out of the code. This meant search engines were not searching for the term Ken Loach, which wasn't very useful. You live and learn:-( )
Along with many other British director entries this entry is 'work in progress' nevertheless it will provide a basic signposting to other available resources on the web in the first instance until I'm able to make a fuller evaluation and provide fuller articles on the separate films.
From the perspective of examining and analysing the trials and tribulations, successes and failures, weakness and strengths of contemporary British cinema the films of Ken Loach are important ones to think about.
Ken Loach has been a major force in British filmmaking since the 1960s. Loach comes out of a strong tradition of British social realism which almost inevitably is a broadly left-wing cinema which also has crossovers with classic TV dramas. Kathy Come Home was a groundbreaking TV drama which helped to establish the charity Shelter and exposed the failures of the welfare state in providing good housing for all at the time. Loach also made early episodes of 'Z' Cars for TV and Up the Junction, in 1965. A powerful TV play. Much of this work depicted another side to Britain in the 1960s which is now remembered more nostaligically as the "Swinging Sixties". In fact there was considerable poverty and exploitation of working class tenants at the time. Work by people like Loach at the time applied pressure upon the Labour governemnt under Harold Wilson to invest more money in social policy initiatives such as housing and at the same time contributed to an increasing discourse of meritocracy within the country.
All this work led to Loach being able to make feature films of which Kes about a working class boy in the North of England is probably his best known early work and has been ranked as the seventh most popular British film ever. The working class were rarely represented in a non patronising way within British cinema up until this time although the work of the British social realist movement had begun to change this.
Loach is still a powerful force in Brish and European cinema continuing to win prizes and gain recognition despite the fact that the content of his films is challenging and critical of many different aspects of contemporary society or challenging recieved version of historical events such as The Spanish Civil War and Britain's role in Ireland after the First World War.
Class and Representation in Contemporary Britain
At a time when class politics has been largely relegated to the margins Loach manages to interweave class issues with history, globalisation and its effects on locality by representing the everyday. The strengths of Loach's cinematic approach can be seen in his concerns to represent aspects of Britain which are often underrepresented. Although his film The Navigators made for Channel Four focused upon the plight of a largely white British working class which was under attack from the Thatcher government that was restructuring the Railways Loach has begun to deal with complex issues of fragmented identities which have regional, gender and ethnic concerns dynamically interwoven in hybridsing patterns.
Loach has always had a central concern in his film-making agenda which an exposure of the poor and exploited of the world in both contemporary and historical settings. Following on from the British social realist tradition of representing regionalism as well as class, films such as Ae Fond Kiss and Sweet Sixteen have taken on board the complex issues of identity in the contemporary world from a grassroots perspective. See Representing Changing Britain: Ethnicity and Hybridity.
Loach has also successfully taken on board important historical themes which often get ignored by the mainstream which tends to celebrate great historically periods such as Elizabethan times in Britain. Loach's prizewinning Land and Freedom represented some of the realities behind the Spanish Civil War which was an important prelude to the opening of the Second World War itself. more recently Loach made the prizewinning The Wind That Shakes the Barley which dealt with the notoriously cruel period of British and Irish history which saw the inception of the Black and Tans terrorising the Irish population in a battle of independence. Atall times Loach takes a different perspective on aspects of life and history which often go unnoticed and unrepresented in mainstream media. Loach's critical perspective often makes it difficult to see his films in the multiplexes in Britain and in terms of box office takings his films often do better in continental Europe than in cinemas here. TV and DVD sales and a loyal continental following help ensure that Loach is able to the raise the money for new critical projects. Inevitably they are low budget and have little money for marketing campaigns. As such they represent the ongoing struggle if British and other national cinemas who are always under threat from the Hollywood industrial machine.
Ae Fond Kiss deals with changing concepts of ethnicity and celebrates the dynamism and natural hybridity of many people who dare to cross social and cultural boundaries in pursuit of their own happiness. Loach does an important job here for it is these people who are building the Britain of the future. This makes it a useful film to study as well.
It is difficult to classify Loach's films precisely becuase he seeks to look at the world through a different mental lens. One can look at Ae Fond Kiss and classify it as within the 'romantic' genre for example but it is rather more than that and would disappoint those who went along thinking they were going to see a standardised romance as structured within the genre conventions.
To look at the content of Loach's films, think about the way they are made - often reliant upon non-professional actors, and with an improvisatory method of engaging with the actors, and to relate their relationship to the systems of distribution and exhibition allows - indeed forces one take a critical perspective upon many different aspects of life. They are low budget films and indeed Loach prefers it like this. He and his teams have a far greater control over the content and the way they develop their own personal vision but they are not 'Art' films with a capital A because their aesthetic is easy to recognise amongst the desired working class audience. It is a pity that Loach has difficulty in reaching this audience through the cinema.
The Wind That Shakes the Barley (2006)
Although Ken Loach is one of Britain's most respected film makers getting to see his films in a cinema in the UK is a difficult affair even when they gain critical accolades as did The Wind that Shakes the Barley which won the Palme d'Or the top prize at Cannes 2006 which is the most prestigious film festival in the world (Oscars have more glam,cash and celebrity but Cannes is for good, challenging and interesting films).
When an acclaimed, leftist English director makes a film about nationalist Irish struggles – and wins the top prize at the Cannes festival – controversy is inevitable. The historian Stephen Howe looks behind the shouting to ask: is the film truthful? (Stephen Howe Open Democracy article.)
We know there is something deeply wrong with the British film industry as a whole when this sort of situation is happening. Here we need to consider and come up with different models of distribution and exhibition as an urgent matter of cultural policy to deal with the creatively choking (and polluting) control of the multiplexes.
In this film Loach examines a broader historical theme which is something he has done previously in Land and Freedom about the Spanish Civil War. Loach has the ability to move from the micro of the quotidian looking at the trials, tribulations and frustrations of the everyday for working class people to important periods of history which are often obscured by various ideological and political issues of the present. There are few British films which take a critical look at the role of Britain in Irish history for example.
This film is a useful one to study as a part of issues and debates in contemporary British cinema both from the perspective of its content and also the highly contradictory situation of the film not being widely celebrated within the cinema system itself.
It's a Free World (2007)
For a more in depth article please see It's a Free World on this blog. For a discussion about the underlying socio-economic processes that Loach is representing see also entry on Globalisation on this blog.
Again this is a prize winning film gaining an important award at the prestigious Venice Film Festival of Best Screenplay, Venice Film Festival 2007 as well as Best Film, Seville Film Festival 2007
(Sept. 9th 2007) Paul Laverty won the "Osella" for the Best Screenplay for "It's a Free World" (directed by Ken Loach) at this year's Venice Film Festival. Besides the drama was awarded with a EIUC Human Rights Film Award and got a special mention a the Signis Awards.
It's A Free World Trailer
Below interview with Ken Loach conducted in Italian. (Loach's comments are being translated)
Review from Amanda Palmer of It's a Free World as part of a film review programme from Al Jazeera
Tickets (with Abbas Kiarostami, Ermanno Olmi) 2005
Ae Fond Kiss 2003
The Navigators 2001
Bread and Roses 2000
My Name is Joe 1998
Screenonline biographical notes on Ken Loach (There are many associated links to films on this page)
Sweet Sixteen Films (Home page of Ken Loach and Rebecca O'Brien Production Company)
MEDIA support in Production (Industrial context)
Film Availability : The following Ken Loach films are currently available