Name: Ken Loach
Place of birth: Nuneaton, Warwickshire, England
Films include: I, Daniel Blake; The Angel’s Share; Route Irish; Looking for Eric; The Wind That Shakes the Barley; Tickets (with Abbas Kiarostami and Ermanno Olmi); Sweet Sixteen; Carla’s Song; Riff-Raff; Kes; Poor Cow; Cathy Come Home (television drama).
Accolades: The Palme d’Or in 2016 and the BAFTA for Best British Film in 2017 for I, Daniel Blake, Palme d’Or for The Wind That Shakes the Barley in 2006, the Cannes Special Jury Prize for Raining Stones and Hidden Agenda in 1993 and 1990 respectively, the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement in 1994, among others.
Contemporaries: Filmmakers like Mike Leigh and Terence Davies whose works, like Loach’s, show influences of the British New Wave.
His films are about…: working class life. Set often in Britain’s northern industrial belt, Loach’s films feature the dispossessed, the have-nots of society, deprived of proper education or the right to social benefits. Strongly criticising the Thatcher era, these films typically feature blue-collar heroes who struggle with issues like unemployment and poor working conditions, overcrowding and homelessness and repeatedly face the injustices of capitalism and bureaucracy.
Style: Loach employs an unsentimental and self-effacing camera that essentially documents. Following new wave traditions, he prefers real locations and the use of natural light. Authenticity is all-important – characters are always identified with specific places and his actors, many of them non-professionals, are often cast so that their on-screen selves mirror their real lives. Loach is known to shoot chronologically and to keep from sharing the whole script with his actors in order to elicit spontaneous reactions.
Set often in Britain’s northern industrial belt, Loach’s films feature the dispossessed, the have-nots of society, deprived of proper education or the right to social benefits
Genre: Social realism, where fiction and documentary modes merge seamlessly to expose and comment on socio-political realities.
Frequently associates with: Screenwriter Paul Laverty with whom he has collaborated on more than 10 films and who wrote both his Palme d’Or winners.
The first film you should see: The Angel’s Share, a funny and uplifting film–unusually so for Loach–where a whiskey heist in a distillery in the Scottish Highlands, offers ex-con Robbie a much-needed escape from a violent past, the chance of redemption and a better future. While Loach’s concerns with a generation of urban working class youth battling unemployment and the effects of alcohol and drug abuse are at the centre, the film unlike most others offers a way out. Hope, and the joys of friendship and collective pursuit are celebrated. Like its title which poetically alludes to the 2 per cent of whiskey that evaporates as it ages in the cask, the film resonates with a sense of the magical and this in turn stems from its idea of setting free.
Fun fact: Ken Loach’s son, Jim, is also a director whose first film Oranges and Sunshine came out in 2011.
Quote: “Depression is for the middle class. The rest of us get an early start in the morning” – Stevie (Robert Carlyle) to his girlfriend Susan (Emer McCourt) in Riff-Raff.