Versus: The Life and Films of Ken Loach

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“If you say how the world is, that should be enough”, says Ken Loach at the start of this documentary, adding that “politics is essential”. His is a kind of politics which wants to show how working class people live, find their humanity and resist.

This is exemplified in films such as Kes (1969), which demonstrates how a young working class boy is able to develop his own unique personality through his relationship with a kestrel.

Loach won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes film festival last month for the second time for his latest film, I, Daniel Blake. The film, an exposé of life on benefits which are being cut, is Loach’s response to the 2015 re-election of the Tories (or “bastards” as he calls them). Loach has long been celebrated in Europe as an outstanding film maker while being “censored” out of mainstream cinemas in Britain by a Tory media which has always hated his class guts and unwillingness to bend the knee to the rich and powerful.

Loach came from a working class family but he was able to “escape” by being one of the few to go to grammar school rather than the local secondary modern. From there he went to Oxford University where he met “the gilded youth who expected to inherit the earth — and did”. The Wednesday plays on BBC One in the 1960s gave Loach and producer Tony Garnett the space to create the kind of films he subsequently became famous for, such as Cathy Come Home (1966), the film about homelessness which made Loach famous.

His relationship with Jim Allen, a writer who had experienced the tough side of working class life, meant that Loach came to understand that “there is capital and there is labour and they’re enemies.” So Loach also wants to tell the story of how working class people have been betrayed by the trade union leaders and the Labour Party.

From the mid-1970s, the atmosphere changed and it became impossible to “tell it how it is”. This led many British film directors to depart for the US. Loach refused to go and spent almost 12 years in the wilderness. “You either have integrity or you don’t” as a broadcaster, was Loach’s response to Melvyn Bragg’s “I don’t think we can show this” about yet another of Loach’s films.

In the documentary, Loach refers to The Wind that Shakes the Barley (which won the Palme d’Or in 2006) and Land and Freedom as the high points of his career. They are both films about struggles for a different kind of world, which shook their respective societies — Ireland and Spain — to their foundations. So watch the documentary and then go and see Loach’s films if you don’t know them already.