The True Grit of Ken Loach
had its fair share of movie types, but one man has
consistantly captured the heart and soul of our people.
The great Ken Loach. Sid gets out his clapperboard.
is one of Britain's most important film makers
and without whom AYUP would have to look elsewhere
for another site logo. As an honorary Yorkshireman
(he was born in Nuneaton, Warwickshire), Ken Loach
has documented the harsh lives he has seen with an
eye for comic tragedy. He could best be described
as a Master of 'Social Realism'. And he has inspired
many directors: director Stephen Frears once stated
that "Without Ken Loach, I wouldn't be here".
what comes to mind when you hear the name Ken Loach?
I guess that it all depends on your age. If you're
one of our younger readers then you maybe familiar
with his most recent International successes; those
of Land and Freedom (1995), Carla's Song (1996) Bread
and Roses (2000). Or more recently the TV film of
The Navigators (2001). And for the older generation
it all about one wonderful movie, (one central to
Loach's fascination for 'all-things-Yorkshire') the
film Kes (1969). It's a landscape that he's made so
familiar by detailing issues of hope, destiny and
struggle within working communities, filled with natural
characters that breath life into the celluloid.
Even before Kes was filmed, Ken Loach had made his
mark at the BBC. After a directorial debut with three
episodes of Z Cars, his first major notice came with
Cathy Come Home (1966), which addressed the issues
of homelessness and led to 'questions being asked
in parliament' on the topic. Later he became involved
with several BBC 'Wednesday Play' features. Amongst
these were two raw industrial dramas written by Jim
Allen, an ex-coalminer, The Big Flame (1971) and Rank
and File (1971).
big screened beckoned, and in 1968 he began Kestrel
films with producer Tony Garnet. Their first offering
was Kes. This film has become recognised as one of
the greatest British films ever, even though it had
to be dubbed for the American market. Also, it was
a seminal film for Yorkshire and for the people of
Barnsley. Even today the film has a resonance, though
the working men's clubs have since disappeared, the
people and the hardships are still there.
Loach developed his Realist approach by using non-professional
actors wherever possible and believes that people,
in general, have a great potential. Therefore for
each project, he spends his time searching for the
right talent in order to produce the necessary level
of naturalism, for example, who could forget ex-wrestler
Brian Glover in Kes as the sadistic sports teacher,
who believed he was Bobby Charlton's natural successor.
Indeed it was pure comedy sharpened on the knife of
TV films of grit followed with Rank and File (1976)
and The Price of Coal (1976) , both highlighted the
harsh life of the mining communities. The Gamekeeper
(1979) concerned a steelworker turned gamekeeper for
the duke's estate. Then came Looks and Smiles see
photo, right -(1981), which could almost be seen
as the follow-up to Kes, as it dealt with unemployment
and dissatisfied youth, whose only way out was to
join the Army and see the world. It should be noted
that these projects (excepting Rank and File) were
all written by Barry Hines. It seems to me that the
kitchen soap dramas of the 60's had given way to a
70's full of Yorkshire grit.
In true Orwellian style, in 1984 his voice was squeezed
off the TV screens, when two main projects were cancelled;
those of Questions of Leadership, originally produced
for the South Bank Show (1984), and Which Side Are
You On (1984), which dealt with the Miner's strike
as it was unfolding. Having spent two years on the
programmes, the final films were banned and even today,
cannot be legally shown outside of a film club. Isn't
it time that these were now aired?
Furthermore, a change of government did not quieten
his discontent. Recently he left the Labour Party
declaring, "You felt that you didn't have to turn
up at the meetings, just give them your visa number".
And let's not forget what happened when they requested
a CV from him for a CD release about Cool Britannia.
He sent one in which stated, "I'm a film maker and
my aim is to expose the sham of social democracy as
best exemplified by the Blair project." It was duly
returned with the comment, ""We can't include
you in the project." He does not suffer fools lightly.
limited access in the UK, he turned towards the
international big picture scene and continued to champion
the workers' struggles. Firstly against the destructive
power of Stalin in Land and Freedom. For which he
came under fire from the International Brigade for
the portrayal of POUM and the anarchists, and for
showing divisions within the Left. Secondly, the People's
army of the Sandinistas against the CIA backed regime
in Carla's Song and most recently, the fight of the
cleaners' unions against LA's top lawyers and agents
in Bread and Roses.
American experiences whilst making the latter film
left him with the need to cleanse himself forever
of their grasp: "Hollywood has to be the most difficult
place in the world to make films." He turned his back
on the Hollywood dollar. He endeared himself further
to that insulated community in Cannes last year (during
a special screening of Kes), when he asked British
film-makers to stop allowing themselves to be colonised
so ruthlessly by US ideas and its market potential.
up to date, Ken Loach finds himself back in the heart
of Yorkshire, the soil of Sheffield with his latest
project, The Navigators. A story of the privatisation
of British Rail through the eyes of a Permanent Way
track gang, whose easy going camaraderie begins to
falls apart through the mutual betrayal under the
strain of new work practises. It was written by Rob
Dawber, a former British Rail signalmen, and promised
to be interesting at the very least. On show were
many local talents such as Barnsley's famous comedian
Charlie Brown, as the foul mouthed depot janitor.
Expect to see a dubbed copy in your local Blockbusters
It's time for me to come clean. Having worked for
British Rail in Sheffield for a few years I found
The Navigator very eerie in its accuracy. And all
my ghosts came back to see how I had been getting
should you think The Navigators portrays an insignificant
localised story without world appeal, then it's worth
noting that the film was a centrepiece feature in
London recently, as part of the Human Rights Watch
International Film Festival.
has he come full circle? Will there be more Yorkshire
stories in the offing?
he does seem to have a certain affinity with our writers,
so I expect so. In the meantime, whatever he turns
his attention to next, be it local or of an international
flavour, one thing you can be certain of is that it
won't be 'Hollywood friendly'. For me, it's good to
know that his grip on Social Realism hasn't softened
and that there is still a voice that doesn't shy away
from the phrase 'working class'. Whether you're shovelling
coal or tapping away at a keyboard - it is still working
class. However, my only regret would be that the life
portrayed through out this period hasn't changed much
for the better
I doff my cap to thee.