leap forwards, two leaps back,|
Will politics get me the
Billy Bragg, 'Waiting For The Great Leap Forwards'
KEN LOACH FILMOGRAPHY
Struggle, tragedy and censorship, all of which might
suggest that his potential remains unfulfilled, have surrounded the career of humanist
filmmaker Ken Loach. However, I think it is fair to say that Loach has ultimately given
the world of cinema a distinct canon of work that is enjoyed and respected by peers,
critics and audiences alike.
Loach was born in Nuneaton, England on the 17th June
1936. His early childhood was lived out around the relocations demanded of his family by
the onset of war. By the age of 25, he had completed two years of National Service in the
Royal Air Force, going on to read law at St. Peter's Hall, Oxford. Here he involved
himself with the University's drama group leading to, upon completing his course, working
as an actor in repertory theatre.
In 1961, Loach received a sponsorship from ABC TV, to
become an assistant director at the Northampton Repertory Theatre before, in 1963, joining
the BBC as a trainee television director. His first undertaking was to direct Catherine
in 1964 (which starred Tony Garnett who was to play a large part in Loach's career). He
was then assigned to direct three episodes of the popular, gritty police series Z Cars.
Following this, he directed three episodes of the
series Diary Of A Young Man. It is interesting to note that his approach to Diary
is quite the antithesis of 'naturalism', a term that is often applied to Loach's work,
mainly due to the series being written by Troy Kennedy Martin, author of the polemical
essay "Nat's Go Home", published in 1964.
The period subsequent to Diary... was one of
extreme significance in Loach's career, as he directed his first 'Wednesday Play' for the
BBC. He would direct a further nine between 1965 and 1971, arguably finding, during this
time, the vision and voice that has defined his subsequent career. The most consequential
of these teleplays was undoubtedly Cathy Come Home. Regarding the issue of
was latched onto by various political institutions upon
transmission, and this eventually led to the advent of the charity, Shelter, something
Loach refuses to take any credit for. Loach's Up The Junction and Cathy Come
Home were the first 'Wednesday Plays' to escape the trappings of a studio set-up and,
using genuine vox-pop interviews and statistics, was a ground-breaking piece of cinéma
vérité-esque documentary fiction, which was to cause great debate over the very nature
of television drama.
Also during this period, Loach had time to put his
hand to the direction of his first feature film, Poor Cow (1967), although he felt
that this film highlighted, if nothing else, his cinematic immaturity.
Troubled by his first foray into the cinematic world,
Loach and Tony Garnett, with whom he had worked with on many of the Wednesday Plays set up
Kestrel Productions to actualize some low-key independent work. Their first film was Kes,
which many acknowledge as a pivotal film in the late 60's period of British cinema. It
concerns the story of a boy who, facing little or no prospects in life, finds a 'creative'
avenue through his training of a bird. The issue of hope, destiny and struggle in working
class communities that is intrinsic to Kes has become the benchmark of Loach's cinema,
what some have called 'social-conscience realism'.
Following the box-office success of Kes, Loach
briefly returned to the 'Wednesday Play', re-inventing In Two Minds as a film, Family
Life. However, this was commercially unsuccessful, which hit the Kestrel finances
extremely hard. This failure has been blamed mainly on poor distribution.
A further set-back occurred when a Loach-directed
film made for London Weekend Television (LWT) to explain the work of the Save The Children
Fund was refused by the charity, with LWT distancing themselves from their financing of
After a family tragedy, Loach was to take an
understandably extended sabbatical from direction, returning in 1975 with Days Of Hope,
a four-part television series looking at the British Labour movement between 1916 and
1926. The series was chastised for being "avowedly partisan", a criticism
that had dogged Loach since the 'success' of Cathy Come Home, and has continued to
do so since, seemingly indicative of the problems of the documentary-drama mode.
It was also at this point that Loach's career began
it's extended 'low', tellingly coinciding with the election of the Conservative Party to
government under the leadership of Margaret Thatcher, who embodied the very antithesis of
A 3 million rise in unemployment, the crushing of the
miners union strike, a significant cut in arts subsidy, as well as successful
defense of the Falklands were seen during Thatchers first two terms of office. By
this time she had gained many enemies in the creative community, for instance, community
theatre groups, the avant-garde film work of Peter Greenaway and Derek Jarman, the poetry
of Adrian Mitchell and the Red Wedge music and comedy tours fronted by Paul Weller and
Billy Bragg. However this, combined with his lack of any
meaningful creative outlet since "Days Of Hope", merely strengthened
Loach's militancy. To combat the prevalence of Thatcherism, Loach embarked on a series of
documentaries. His first foray into documentary was A Question Of Leadership put
together for ITV's South Bank Show, but editor Melvyn Bragg stepped in and refused
to authorize the broadcast. However, it was eventually shown on Channel 4, three months
later, after the heat of Thatcher's overpowering of the steel strikers had subsided. Loach
returned to these themes in his 1983 four-part Channel 4-commissioned Questions of
Leadership, that extended the themes of the original broadcast but
concerned the miner's strike. Spending almost two years on the project, the final
programs were banned and, even today, cannot be exhibited.
Between 1983 and 1990, Loach's focus and confidence
would appear to have wavered, in the face of his inability to find finance. Backers were
afraid to put faith in a man notorious for making unbroadcastable material. However, in
1986, he did manage to direct the feature Fatherland, written by Trevor Griffith,
his first foray into a working relationship with Film Four. It was this alliance that was
to pay dividends in the future, and as the 80's came to a close, Loach renewed his
partnership with Jim Allen.
After years of, as Loach himself describes it, of
"walking up and down Wardour Street, briefcase in hand, desperately seeking
finance", he directed, in 1990, Allen's typically polemical screenplay film
Hidden Agenda, which won Loach the Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival of that
year. Described by Conservative MP, Ivor Stanbrook, as "the official IRA entry",
this tag proved worrying to exhibitors but, nevertheless, received critical acclaim and
relative box-office success.
Since 1990, Loach has made six very successful films,
certainly at a critical level and virtually all have dealt with a 'social evil' as Loach
might describe it. His creative renaissance would seem to begin with the working-class
triumvirate of Riff-Raff (1991),
Raining Stones (1993) and Ladybird
Ladybird (1994). The latter film, based on a true story, was criticized by Carol
Sarler in the Sunday Times for, as she alleged, that Loach had "distorted the
facts of the case" and "exploiting a families unhappiness" for his
own end, an attack which particularly angered Loach, who disputed the claims but his right
to reply was denied by the paper's editors.
His subsequent films have seen Loach travel to Spain
and Nicaragua to pursue stories of social struggle with
Land And Freedom (1995) and
Carlas Song (1996) respectively. However, his latest, and arguably most
My Name Is Joe (1998) has seen a return to the themes of
working-class struggle familiar from his television, and early 90s film work.
Loachs career has been subject to many fits and
starts, but his reputation at the end of the Nineties, after a 35-year career, remains
relatively intact. Certainly, the release in 1998 of My Name Is Joe has given rise
to a distinct resurgence of interest in his work. Long may it continue.
This biography is
adapted from a dissertation work undertaken by the author between September 1998 and April
1999. The complete work, detailing Loach's work and its relevance to discussions of
'traditional British realism' and works of social conscience from around the globe is
available at the following URL:
© 1999 Dave Nicholls
reserves to moral right to be identified as the author of this work.
Ken Loach Filmography
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