Ken Loach and his socialist style of cinema | Sunday Observer

Ken Loach and his socialist style of cinema

30 January, 2022

Kenneth Charles Loach (born 17 June 1936) is an English filmmaker. His socially critical directing style and socialist ideals are evident in his film treatment of social issues such as poverty (‘Poor Cow’, 1967), homelessness (‘Cathy Come Home’, 1966), and labour rights (‘Riff-Raff’, 1991, and ‘The Navigators’, 2001).

Loach’s film ‘Kes’ (1969) was voted the seventh greatest British film of the 20th century in a poll by the British Film Institute. Two of his films, ‘The Wind That Shakes the Barley’ (2006) and ‘I, Daniel Blake’ (2016), received the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, making him one of only nine filmmakers to win the award twice.

His style in cinema

In May 2010, Loach referred in an interview to the three films that have influenced him most: Vittorio De Sica’s ‘Bicycle Thieves’ (1948), Miloš Forman’s ‘Loves of a Blonde’ (1965) and Gillo Pontecorvo’s ‘The Battle of Algiers’ (1966). De Sica’s film had a particularly profound effect. He noted: “It made me realise that cinema could be about ordinary people and their dilemmas. It wasn’t a film about stars, or riches or absurd adventures”.

Throughout his career, some of Loach’s films have been shelved for political reasons. In a 2011 interview with ‘The Guardian’ newspaper he said, “It makes you angry, not on your own behalf, but on behalf of the people whose voices weren’t allowed to be heard. When you had trade unions, ordinary people, rank and file, never been on television, never been interviewed, and they’re not allowed to be heard, that’s scandalous.“

Loach argues that working people’s struggles are inherently dramatic: “They live life very vividly, and the stakes are very high if you don’t have a lot of money to cushion your life. Also, because they’re the front line of what we came to call the class war. Either through being workers without work, or through being exploited where they were working. And I guess for a political reason, because we felt, and I still think, that if there is to be change, it will come from below. It won’t come from people who have a lot to lose, it will come from people who will have everything to gain.”

A thematic consistency throughout his films, whether they examine broad political situations or smaller intimate dramas, is his focus on personal relationships The sweeping political dramas (‘Land and Freedom’, ‘Bread and Roses’, ‘The Wind that Shakes the Barley’) examine wider political forces in the context of relationships between family members (‘Bread and Roses’, ‘The Wind that Shakes the Barley’, ‘Carla’s Song’), comrades in struggle (‘Land and Freedom’) or close friends (‘Route Irish’).

In a 2011 interview for the Financial Times, Loach explains how “The politics are embedded into the characters and the narrative, which is a more sophisticated way of doing it”.

Many of Loach’s films include a large amount of traditional dialect, such as the Yorkshire dialect in Kes and in ‘The Price of Coal’, Cockney in ‘Up the Junction’ and ‘Poor Cow’, Scouse in ‘The Big Flame’, Lancashire dialect in ‘Raining Stones’, Glaswegian in ‘My Name Is Joe’ and the dialect of Greenock in ‘Sweet Sixteen’. Many of these films have been subtitled when shown in other English-speaking countries. When asked about this in an interview with Cineaste, Loach replied:

If you ask people to speak differently, you lose more than the voice. Everything about them changes. If I asked you not to speak with an American accent, your whole personality would change. That’s how you are. My hunch is that it’s better to use subtitles than not, even if that limits the films to an art-house circuit.

Loach was among’ the first British directors to use swearing in his films. Mary Whitehouse complained about swearing in ‘Cathy Come Home’ and ‘Up The Junction’, while ‘The Big Flame’ (1969) for the BBC was an early instance of the word shit, and the certificate to Kes caused some debate owing to the profanity, but these films have relatively few swear words compared to his later work. In particular, the film ‘Sweet Sixtee’n was awarded an 18 certificate on the basis of the very large amount of swearing, despite the lack of serious violence or sexual content, which led Loach to encourage under-18s to break the law to see the film.

Feminist writer Julie Bindel has criticised Loach’s recent films for lack of female characters who are not simply love interests for the male characters, although she praised his early film, Cathy Come Home. Bindel also wrote, “Loach appears not to know gay people exist”.

Honorary doctorate

In April 2018, Loach was awarded an honorary doctorate by the Université libre de Bruxelles (Free University of Brussels). Belgium’s Prime Minister Charles Michel objected. Belgian Jewish organisations campaigned for Loach not to receive the honorary doctorate.

The previous evening, during a speech at Brussels Grand Synagogue, to mark the 70th anniversary of Israel’s foundation, Michel said: “No accommodation with anti-Semitism can be tolerated, whatever its form. And that also goes for my own alma mater”. His office told the Belgian De Standaard news website the comments could apply to Loach’s honorary doctorate.

At a press conference before the award, Loach asked: “Is the law so badly taught here? Or did he not pass his exam?” In a press release, Loach said the claim about his alleged anti-Semitism was “malicious”. The rector of the Free University of Brussels, Yvon Englert, supported Loach.