Tim Thomas completes his series of articles inspired by the BFI’s Ken Loach retrospective.
Ken Loach is a committed film-maker with 50 years experience of the film business and a prodigious output amounting to nearly a film a year over that period.
He is a progressive influence and has struggled hard against TV and film censorship. He demands politics be taken seriously and he invites argument. That is why his turn to Respect has to be challenged because it didn’t just contribute to the demise of the Socialist Alliance, it indicated an adventure. He has also expressed support for the free-booter Assange. And whereas Hidden Agenda (written by Jim Allen) confuses, Wind That Shakes The Barley (written by Paul Laverty) suggests intransigence might become an unhealthy pre-occupation with martyrdom.
But there is much more to be amazed at and inspired by in his work: his ability to capture, in feature or documentary, an historical relationship in a single moment of conflict, for example. Or his technical brilliance, his innovative way of working with actors and script. Of the TV film, Days of Hope, the film director Stephen Frears has written, “There isn’t one cinema film which compares in importance with Days of Hope. Not one”.
Or take my favourite, Sweet Sixteen, the story of a community shot through with thugs and drugs. Filmed in Greenock, the acutely observed performances reveal a family drawn into gangland manipulation. While there was hope in Days of Hope there is very little hope here and even less in Route Irish, his take on Iraq. But, despite the degradation he is witness to in his later films, there are always moments of heroism and always plans for a way through the difficulties.
Riff Raff and The Navigators (the latter written by Rob Dawber, an AWL member who died not long after the film was made) are full of edgy humour. Looking for Eric is the most warm-hearted film I’ve ever seen. And then there is his epic, Land and Freedom which, apart from a description of civil war Spain and the struggle of the POUM against fascism and Stalinism, demands viewers weigh up their own level of commitment to the continuing struggle.
His films are calls to action. Happy 75th, Ken Loach.