Ken Loach: A Filmmaker Speaks Truth to Power

Versus: The Life and Films of Ken Loach

Directed by Louise Osmond (2016)

Film Review

My favorite for many years, Ken Loach is the only filmmaker anywhere to unflinchingly portray the exploitation, oppression, injustice and physical and emotional abuse endured by working class women. In doing so, he is one of a tiny handful of directors to speak up for society’s voiceless.

He first announced his retirement in 2014 at age 74, only to come out of retirement two months later to make his “final” film I, Daniel Blake, released in 2016. Then in 2019, he released Sorry We Missed You.

Loach was born in Warwickshire England to a working class Tory family. He became interested in theater while studying law (which he never practiced) at Oxford. When the government launched BBC 2 in the early sixties, Ken and his working class mates were hired to write, direct and produce working class dramas for the new network.

Loach first received worldwide attention for his TV drama Cathy Come Home, about a woman who loses her three children to social welfare when she becomes homeless. His 1969 feature film Kes (about a working class boy who raises and trains a kestrel hawk), won a British Film Institute. In 1971 he released Rank and File about the betrayal of grassroots union members by trade union bureaucrats and the Labour Party.

Unable to release any films with Thatcher in power, he mainly directed TV commercials during this time. Distributors initially refused to release his 1990 Hidden Agenda, produced in 1990 – until it won the Special Jury Award at the Cannes Film Festival. The film is a political thriller film about British state terrorism in Northern Ireland.

Other films highlighted in the film include:

  • Riff Raff (1992), about the misery of British working life following the massive deindustrialization that occurred under Thatcher.
  • Raining Stones (1993) about a man who turns to petty crime to his daughter a First Communion Dress.
  • Ladybird, Ladybird (1994) about a battered woman who loses her baby to social welfare.
  • Land and Freedom, 1995, about the people’s army that fought in the Spanish Civil War
  • My Name is Joe, (1998) about an unemployed former alcoholic
  • The Angel’s Share, 2012, about a working class Glaswegian who narrowly avoids prison when he helps smuggle Scotch whiskey out of a distillery (Angel’s Share refers to the portion of whiskey lost to evaporation during aging).

In his pursuit of genuine authenticity and intimacy, Loach frequently casts working class actors with no prior acting experience. To make their responses more spontaneous, He typically films them one scene at a time without letting them see the rest of the script.

For example, in Land and Freedom a brilliant and charismatic (female) evolutionary is shot and killed in the middle of the film. The rest of the cast have no idea this is coming, and the shock and distress they manifest is surreal.