Tonight’s film, VERSUS: THE LIFE AND FILMS OF KEN LOACH is (unsurprisingly) a documentary on the life and times of Ken Loach, master director and inspiration to many. For the past half-century, the British filmmaker has been crafting stellar films that showcase the political and social experiences of the working classes, and shows no signs of slowing down. From the earlier BBC plays to Palme d’Or award-winning films, Loach’s persistence to challenge the political status quo has been relentless. With this is mind I’ve taken it upon myself to list some of my own favourites, and why you need to check them out ASAP.
CATHY COME HOME (1966)
Ken Loach’s history-making 1966 television drama about homelessness, CATHY COME HOME was a gritty snapshot of an era in Britain’s history that will never be forgotten. Shot in almost documentary style, it is the story of a family forced out of their flat when the husband loses his job as a driver after an accident. Their bright and hopeful future pretty much vanishes before their eyes, and it is a heartbreaking watch. At the time of first screening it proved so powerful that it led to discussions in Parliament and new legislation to tackle homelessness in Britain. It was also fundamental in the launch of the homeless charity, Shelter.
One of the best-loved British films by far, KES was only Loach’s second feature for cinema. Based on Barry Hines’ novel ‘A Kestrel for a Knave’, it tells the tale of Billy Caspar, a misjudged, smart teenager who hails from mining town called Barnsley. A troubled young chap, Billy is trodden on at home and ignored at school, but his life changes when he forms a bond with a kestrel hawk. “Hawks can’t be tamed. That’s what makes it great”, says Billy, who comes to respect the majestic bird for what it is.
RIFF RAFF (1991)
Many have said that it was RIFF RAFF that kick-started Loach’s unique brand of modern social realism movies, which has continued till his most recently acclaimed feature I, DANIEL BLAKE. Part romantic comedy and part brilliant satire of Thatcherism, RIFF RAFF stars the indomitable Robert Carlyle as Stevie, a demolition crew worker in the process of converting a broken-down hospital into luxury condominiums. Veteran actor/comedian Ricky Tomlinson also appears as a union leader who takes a fine swipe at Thatcher’s horrific economic policies.
THE WIND THAT SHAKES THE BARLEY (2006)
Although the movie won the coveted Palme d’Or award at Cannes and did well at local box-office, THE WIND THAT SHAKES THE BARLEY drew harsh criticisms among British media for its portrayal of the IRA. The film tells the story of Damien (Cillian Murphy), a young apolitical doctor who joins the budding ranks of IRA after witnessing a brutal raid from English forces. Loach once again excels in focusing on the human experience, covering the guerrilla war for the independence of the Irish Republic as it pitted the freedom fighters against the British army, the impoverished Irish workers against the English land barons, and eventually brother against brother.
LOOKING FOR ERIC (2009)
One of my personal favourite movies, LOOKING FOR ERIC stars footballer Eric Cantona as the imaginary mentor of a Manchester postman who suffers panic attacks and can’t cope with his two rowdy stepsons. It’s an often hilarious but never gimmicky premise that turns hero worship on its head, as the cool-headed Cantona appears in the life of Eric Bishop (Steve Evets) to tell him to pull himself together. The pair swap tips on how to cope with the dark times and reminisce over Cantona’s goals, in a true meeting of the magic and the mundane.
I, DANIEL BLAKE (2016)
Fifty years after Loach raged against homelessness in CATHY COME HOME, the British filmmaker made a film infused with the same quiet but righteous anger about the failings of the society around him in I, DANIEL BLAKE. The film - screening on Rialto August 12, just FYI - is the story of an unlikely but tender friendship between Katie (Hayley Squires), a single mother from London, and Dan (Dave Johns), a Geordie carpenter in his late fifties who's out of work and recovering from a heart attack. Both Katie and Dan are feeling the sharp end of the shrinking welfare state: Katie has been forced to move her children north to find a flat; Dan is stuck in a nightmarish limbo between work, illness and benefits. Loach sketches with compassion the growing humiliation felt by both in the face of their worsening situations, making for a near-flawless film.
VERSUS: THE LIFE AND FILMS OF KEN LOACH premieres Thursday 10 August at 8.30pm on Rialto Channel
Watch the trailer here
Remote record here
I, DANIEL BLAKE premieres Saturday 12 August at 8.30pm on Rialto Channel
Watch the trailer here
Remote record here