Today: April 18, 2024

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 it’s
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.

Marcia Degia - Publisher

Marcia Degia, who has worked in the media industry for more than 20 years, is the Publishing Editor of KOL Social Magazine. See website:

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