Known for his naturalistic directing style, this British director has been inspiring the film world for many years. He is always faithful to his mission to direct films, which deal with social issues such as homelessness and labor rights. Not only is his choice of subjects unique, but also his philosophy of filmmaking still stands as an example for us people in the industry. So, as his new film JIMMY’S HALL comes out in cinemas this week, we take the opportunity to present to you the one and only Ken Loach. After having initially worked as an assistant director at Northampton repertory theatre, Loach moved into television direction in the early 1960s. He quickly proved his ability to portray social issues with his contributions to the BBC’s WEDNESDAY PLAY anthology series, such as UP THE JUNCTION (1965), CATHY COME HOME (1966) and IN TWO MINDS (1967). In these films, he portrays working-class people with their problems, ranging from illegal abortion to unemployment to homelessness. Each film was like a piece of the puzzle, which completed the portrait of these people’s lives.
Having made a name for himself in television, Loach moved on to directing feature films, the first one being POOR COW (1967). With his second film, KES (1970), he told the story of a young boy and his kestrel. Even though it was a commercial flop in the US, it maintains universal acclaim and was named No 7 in the list of best British films, chosen by the British Film Institute. During the 1970s and 1980s, his films were less successful, which could have something to do with their often-poor distribution. In 1982, he was commissioned by Channel 4 to make Questions of Leadership, a documentary on the response of the British trade union movement to the challenge posed by Margaret Thatcher’s policies. But we never got a chance to see Loach’s approach to this subject, as it wasn’t broadcasted. There were rumors that media tycoon Robert Maxwell had put pressure on Central’s board to withdraw the series, as he was dependent on the union leaders to buy the Daily Mirror. All these events could have been a backdrop for Loach, a reason to start directing more commercial films instead of the socially critical ones, which always have it harder. But that’s not what he did. From 1980 to 1990, he directed a number of relevant and acclaimed films, such as HIDDEN AGENDA, which was one of the rare films that dealt with the political troubles in North Ireland. LAND AND FREEDOM, where he examines the Republican resistance in the Spanish Civil War, contains a quintessentially Loach sequence of a 12 minute discussion amongst villagers, in which they try to decide whether or not a village’s smallholdings should be collectivized. Finally, he got the critical acclaim he had already deserved for such a long time, winning prizes at the Cannes Film Festival on three occasions.
Loach was always in search of relevant topics to draw attention, like in McLIBEL, where he portrays the McLibel case and which was named “an alarming if ultimately inspiring David-and-Goliath parable for today”. In 2006, he won the Palme d’Or in Cannes for his film THE WIND THAT SHAKES THE BARLEY, which deals with the Irish War of Independence. In the following years, he continued to explore wider political dramas with smaller examinations of personal relationships. His most recent commercially successful film is LOOKING FOR ERIC (2009), featuring a depressed postman’s conversation with the football star Eric Cantona.
All of his films have this special way of examining political forces in the context of relationships between family members, comrades, or friends. Loach himself explains his philosophy like this: “The politics are embedded into the characters and the narrative, which is the more sophisticated way of doing it.” He’s one of these rare directors who can portray characters on the fringe of society in a way that seems so effortless, yet still touches you in a way that you start reflecting about society and about you as a part of it.
Loach’s film work is characterized by a particular view of realism. His goal is to achieve a genuine interplay between actors in every area of filmmaking. That’s the reason why he prefers to choose rather unknown talents who share some of the life experiences of the characters they portray. In creating a spontaneous and realistic atmosphere, he coaxes the best possible performance out of his actors—a fact that legends like Dustin Hoffman and Robert Duvall confirm.
For us at ÉCU, Ken Loach is one of cinema’s heroes. He shows that you can make a difference with your films. There should be more directors like him, who aren’t afraid to show us what is happening in some parts of society, while always keeping his artistic aspirations. His newest film JIMMY’S HALL, which focuses on the deportation of Jimmy Gralton, is out now.