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Kenneth "Ken" Loach (born 17 June 1936) is an English film and television director.
He is known for his naturalistic, social realist directing style and for his socialism, which are evident in his film treatment of social issues such as homelessness (Cathy Come Home) and labour rights (Riff-Raff and The Navigators).
Life and career
Loach's ten contributions to the BBC's Wednesday Play anthology series include the docudramas Up the Junction (1965), Cathy Come Home (1966) and In Two Minds (1967). They portray working-class people in conflict with the authorities above them. Three of his early plays are believed to be lost films.Up the Junction, adapted by Nell Dunn from her book with the assistance of Loach, deals with an illegal abortion while the leading characters in Cathy Comes Home, by Jeremy Sandford, are affected by homelessness, unemployment, and the workings of Social Services. In Two Minds, written by David Mercer, concerns a young schizophrenic woman's experiences of the mental health system. Tony Garnett began to work as his producer in this period, a professional connection which would last until the end of the 1970s.
Coinciding with his work for The Wednesday Play, Loach began to direct feature films for the cinema, with Poor Cow (1967) and Kes (1970). The latter recounts the story of a troubled boy and his kestrel, and is based on the novel A Kestrel for a Knave by Barry Hines. The British Film Institute named it No 7 in its list of best British films of the twentieth century, published in 1999.
During the 1970s and '80s, Loach's films were less successful, often suffering from poor distribution, lack of interest and political censorship. His documentary The Save the Children Fund Film (1971) was commissioned by the charity, who subsequently disliked it so much they attempted to have the negative destroyed. In fact, it was only screened publicly for the first time on 1 September 2011, at the BFI Southbank. Loach concentrated on television documentaries rather than fiction during the 1980s, and many of these films are now rare as the television companies have never released them on video or DVD. At the end of the 1980s, Loach directed some television advertisements for Tennent's Lager to earn money.
Loach's 1981 documentary A Question of Leadership interviewed members of the ISTC (the main trade union for Britain's steel industry) with regards to the 14-week strike in 1980, and recorded much criticism of the union's leadership for conceding over the issues in the strike. Subsequently, Loach made a four-part series named Questions of Leadership which subjected the leadership of other trade unions to similar scrutiny from their members, but this has never been broadcast.Frank Chapple, leader of the Electrical, Electronic, Telecommunications and Plumbing Union, walked out of the interview and made a complaint to the Independent Broadcasting Authority. A separate complaint was made by Terry Duffy of the Amalgamated Engineering and Electrical Union. The series was due to be broadcast during the Trade Union Congress conference in 1983, but Channel 4 decided against broadcasting the series following the complaints.Anthony Hayward's book Which Side Are You On? Ken Loach and His Films (2004) claims that the media tycoon Robert Maxwell had put pressure on Central's board, of which he had become a director, to withdraw Questions of Leadership at the time he was buying the Daily Mirror newspaper and needed the co-operation of union leaders, especially Frank Chapple of the electricians.
Which Side Are You On? (1985), about the songs and poems of the UK miners' strike, was originally due to be broadcast on The South Bank Show, but was rejected on the grounds that it was too politically unbalanced for an arts show. The film was eventually transmitted on Channel 4, but only after it won a prize at an Italian film festival. Three weeks after the end of the strike, the film End of the Battle... Not the End of the War? was broadcast on the series of Channel 4. This film argued that the Conservative Party had planned the destruction of the NUM's political power from the late 1970s.
Working with writer Jim Allen, Loach was due to direct a play named Perdition, which suggested that Zionists in Hungary collaborated with the Nazis to help the operation of the Holocaust in return for allowing a few Jews to emigrate to Palestine. The play was due to run at the Royal Court in 1987, but its run was cancelled 36 hours before the first night, following widespread protests and allegations of anti-Semitism.
The late 1980s and 1990s saw the production of a series of films such as Hidden Agenda, dealing with the political troubles in Northern Ireland, Carla's Song set partially in Nicaragua, and Land and Freedom examining the Republican resistance in the Spanish Civil War. He directed the Courtroom Drama reconstructions in the docu-film McLibel, concerning the longest libel trial in English history. Interspersed with political films were smaller dramas such as Raining Stones a working class drama concerning an unemployed man's efforts to buy a communion dress for his young daughter.
On 28 May 2006, Loach won the Palme d'Or at the 2006 Cannes Film Festival for his film The Wind That Shakes the Barley, a film about the Irish War of Independence and the subsequent Irish Civil War during the 1920s. In characteristic fashion this sweeping political-historical drama was followed by It's a Free World a story of one woman's attempt to establish an illegal placement service for migrant workers in London. Throughout the 2000s Loach continued to intersperse wider political dramas such as Bread and Roses (which focused on the Los Angeles janitors strike) and Route Irish (set in the Iraq occupation) with smaller examinations of personal relationships. Ae Fond Kiss explored an inter-racial love affair, Sweet Sixteen a teenager's relationship with his mother, and My Name is Joe an alcoholic's struggle to stay sober. His most commercially successful recent film is 2009's Looking for Eric, featuring a depressed postman's conversations with the ex-Manchester United football star, Eric Cantona (played by Cantona himself). The film won the Magritte Award for Best Co-Production. Although successful in Manchester, the film was a flop in many other cities, especially cities with rival football teams to Manchester United.
In 2011 he released Route Irish, an examination of private contractors working in the Iraqi occupation. 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".
His 2013 film The Angels' Share centres around a young Scottish troublemaker who is given one final opportunity to stay out of jail. Newcomer Paul Brannigan, 24, from Glasgow, plays the lead role. The film competed for the Palme d'Or at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival where Loach won the Jury Prize.
In May 2010, Loach told Tom Lamont in an interview about 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 on Loach. 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."
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, the Glaswegian dialect in My Name is Joe, the dialect of Greenock (in Scotland) in Sweet Sixteen, and a variety of accents in Riff Raff. 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.
Throughout his career 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. And you see it over and over again. I mean, we heard very little from the kids in the riots. You hear some people being inarticulate in a hood, but very few people were actually allowed to speak". In the same interview his focus on working people's lives is explained thus: "I think the underlying factors regarding the riots are plain for anyone with eyes to see ... It seems to me any economic structure that could give young people a future has been destroyed. Traditionally young people would be drawn into the world of work, and into groups of adults who would send the boys for a lefthanded screwdriver, or a pot of elbow grease, and so they'd be sent up in that way, but they would also learn about responsibilities, and learn a trade, and be defined by their skills. Well, they destroyed that. Thatcher destroyed that. She consciously destroyed the workforces in places like the railways, for example, and the mines, and the steelworks ... so that transition from adolescence to adulthood was destroyed, consciously, and knowingly."
He 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 member of the Labour Party from the early 1960s, Loach left in the mid-1990s. In November 2004, he was elected to the national council of the Respect Coalition. He stood for election to the European Parliament on a Respect mandate. Since then he has broken with Respect.
In 2007, Loach was one of more than 100 artists and writers who signed an open letter calling on the San Francisco International LGBT Film Festival "to honour calls for an international boycott of Israeli political and cultural institutions, by discontinuing Israeli consulate sponsorship of the LGBT film festival and not co-sponsoring events with the Israeli consulate." Loach also joined "54 international figures in the literary and cultural fields" in signing a letter that stated, in part, "celebrating 'Israel at 60' is tantamount to dancing on Palestinian graves to the haunting tune of lingering dispossession and multi-faceted injustice". The letter was published in the International Herald Tribune on 8 May 2008."
Responding to a report, which he described as "a red herring", on the growth of antisemitism since the beginning of the Gaza War of 2008-2009, he has said: "If there has been a rise I am not surprised. In fact, it is perfectly understandable because Israel feeds feelings of anti-Semitism." He added "no-one can condone violence".
In May 2009, organisers of the Edinburgh International Film Festival returned a £300 grant from the Israeli Embassy after speaking with Ken Loach. The director was supporting a boycott of the festival called for by the PACBI campaign. In response, former Channel 4 chief executive Sir Jeremy Isaacs describing Loach's intervention as an act of censorship, he said: "They must not allow someone who has no real position, no rock to stand on, to interfere with their programming." Later, a spokesman for the EIFF said that although it had returned £300 to the Israeli Embassy, the festival itself would fund Israeli filmmaker Tali Shalom-Ezer's travel to Edinburgh out of its own budget. In an open letter to Ms Shalom Ezer, Ken Loach wrote "From the beginning, Israel and its supporters have attacked their critics as anti-semites or racists. It is a tactic to undermine rational debate. To be crystal clear: as a film maker you will receive a warm welcome in Edinburgh. You are not censored or rejected. The opposition was to the Festival’s taking money from the Israeli state". To his critics, he added later: "The boycott, as anyone who takes the trouble to investigate knows, is aimed at the Israeli state." Loach said he had a "respectful and reasoned" conversation with event organisers, saying they should not be accepting funds from Israel.
In June 2009, Loach, Paul Laverty (writer) and Rebecca O'Brien (producer) pulled their film Looking For Eric from the Melbourne International Film Festival, where the Israeli Embassy is a sponsor, after the festival declined the withdraw their sponsorship. The festival's chief executive, Richard Moore, compared Loach's tactics to blackmail, stating that "we will not participate in a boycott against the State of Israel, just as we would not contemplate boycotting films from China or other nations involved in difficult long-standing historical disputes.” Australian lawmaker Michael Danby also criticised Loach’s tactics stating that “Israelis and Australians have always had a lot in common, including contempt for the irritating British penchant for claiming cultural superiority. Melbourne is a very different place to Londonistan.”
Loach, Laverty and O'Brien subsequently wrote that: "We feel duty bound to take advice from those living at the sharp end inside the occupied territories. We would also encourage other filmmakers and actors invited to festivals to check for Israeli state backing before attending, and if so, to respect the boycott. Israeli filmmakers are not the target. State involvement is. In the grand scale of things it is a tiny contribution to a growing movement, but the example of South Africa should give us heart".
Together with John Pilger and Jemima Khan, Ken Loach was among the six people in court willing to offer surety for Julian Assange when he was arrested in London on 7 December 2010. In a recent interview with ShortList magazine he said "It’s clear that he’s being set up. Clearly the Yanks want to get him back and either imprison him for a long time, or worse. We need a bit of solidarity with someone who has just told us things that we were entitled to know." The bail money was lost in June 2012 when a judge ordered it to be forfeited, as Assange had sought to escape the jurisdiction of the English courts by entering the London embassy of Ecuador.
Loach supported the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition in the London Assembly election, 2012. He wrote a letter to The Observer in 2012 condemning the Globe Theatre for allowing an Israeli theatre company to perform there.
In November 2012, Ken Loach turned down the Turin Film Festival award, after learning that the National Museum of Cinema in Turin (Italy) has outsourced cleaning and security services. As a consequence, workers had been dismissed, while there had been allegations of intimidation and harassment. Some workers lost their jobs after opposing a wage cut.
With the support of the activist Kate Hudson and academic Gilbert Achcar, Loach launched a campaign in March 2013 for a new left-wing party which was founded as "Left Unity" on 30 November.
In February 2013, Loach was among those who gave their support to the People's Assembly in a letter published by The Guardian newspaper. He also gave a speech at the People's Assembly Conference held at Westminster Central Hall on 22 June 2013.
Loach supports the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel. Loach has also expressed strong support for Chechen independence from Russia.
Loach is a Patron of several charities, including Doorway, a homeless charity in Nuneaton, and Developing Health and Independence (DHI) in Bath.
During the 1960s, Grace Wyndham Goldie, the BBC's head of Talks (i.e. non-fiction), complained that Loach appeared to be side-stepping the Corporation's normally stringent rules about political partisanship by using some documentary material in his fiction.
His films Hidden Agenda and The Wind That Shakes The Barley have been criticised as being too sympathetic to the Irish Republican Army and Provisional Irish Republican Army. Conservative MP referred to Hidden Agenda as "the IRA entry at Cannes". In the case of the latter film, Loach was criticised for taking public money from the UK Film Council to make a film that sided with the IRA against the UK. The Daily Mail wrote an article entitled, "Why does Ken Loach loathe his country so much?".
Loach was criticised for his call for a boycott of the 2009 Edinburgh Film Festival if it showed a film by , who had accepted £300 from the Israeli embassy for travel expenses. An editorial in The Scotsman noted that Loach had not called for the same boycott of the Cannes Film Festival, where his film was in competition with some Israeli films.
Radical feminist Julie Bindel has criticised Loach's films for a lack of female characters and argued that women rarely appear in Loach's films except for as love interests for the male characters. Bindel also wrote, "Loach appears not to know gay people exist". However, his early work Poor Cow was praised for "unusual sensitivity to a woman's point of view".
Loach turned down an OBE in 1977. In a Radio Times interview, published in March 2001, he said:
It's all the things I think are despicable: patronage, deferring to the monarchy and the name of the British Empire, which is a monument of exploitation and conquest. I turned down the OBE because it's not a club you want to join when you look at the villains who've got it.
Loach has been awarded honorary doctorates by the University of Bath, the University of Birmingham, Staffordshire University, and Keele University.Oxford University awarded him an Honorary Doctor of Civil Law degree in June 2005. He is also an honorary fellow of his alma mater, St Peter's College, Oxford. In May 2006, he was awarded the BAFTA Fellowship at the BAFTA TV Awards.
In 2014 he was presented with the Honorary Golden Bear at the 64th Berlin International Film Festival.
- Catherine ("Teletale", 1964)
- Z-Cars (series episodes, 1964)
- Diary of a Young Man (series, 1964)
- Tap on the Shoulder (The Wednesday Play, 1965)
- Wear a Very Big Hat (The Wednesday Play, 1965)
- Three Clear Sundays (The Wednesday Play, 1965)
- Up the Junction (The Wednesday Play', 1965)
- The End of Arthur's Marriage (The Wednesday Play', 1965)
- The Coming Out Party (The Wednesday Play', 1965)
- Cathy Come Home (The Wednesday Play', 1966)
- In Two Minds (The Wednesday Play', 1967)
- The Golden Vision (The Wednesday Play', 1968)
- The Big Flame (The Wednesday Play', 1969)
- The Rank and the File (Play for Today, 1971)
- After a Lifetime ("Sunday Night Theatre", 1971)
- A Misfortune ("Full House", 1973)
- Days of Hope (serial, 1975)
- The Price of Coal (1977)
- The Gamekeeper (1980)
- Auditions (1980)
- A Question of Leadership (1981)
- The Red and the Blue: Impressions of Two Political Conferences - Autumn 1982 (1983)
- Questions of Leadership (1983/4, untransmitted)
- Which Side Are You On? (1985)
- End of the Battle... Not the End of the War ("Diverse Reports", 1985)
- Time to Go ("Split Screen", 1989)
- The View From the Woodpile (1989)
- The Arthur Legend ("Dispatches", 1991)
- The Flickering Flame (1996)
- Another City: A Week in the Life of Bath's Football Club (1998)
- Poor Cow (1967)
- Kes (1969) (as Kenneth Loach)
- The Save the Children Fund Film (1971)
- Family Life (1971)
- Black Jack (1979)
- Looks and Smiles (1981) (as Kenneth Loach)
- Fatherland (1986)
- Hidden Agenda (1990). Cannes Special Jury Prize.
- Riff-Raff (1991). European Film Award Best Picture
- Raining Stones (1993). Cannes Special Jury Prize.
- Ladybird Ladybird (1994)
- Land and Freedom (1995). FIPRESCI International Critics Prize; Prize of the Ecumenical Jury at the Cannes Film Festival; European Film Award Best Picture
- A Contemporary Case for Common Ownership (1995)
- Carla's Song (1996)
- The Flickering Flame (1997)
- My Name Is Joe (1998)
- Bread and Roses (2000)
- The Navigators (2001)
- Sweet Sixteen (2002)
- 11'09"01 September 11 (segment "United Kingdom") (2002)
- Ae Fond Kiss... (2004)
- McLibel (2005)
- Tickets (2005), along with Ermanno Olmi and Abbas Kiarostami
- The Wind That Shakes the Barley (2006) Palme d'Or, Cannes
- It's a Free World... (2007) Screenplay Osella at 64th Venice Film Festival
- Looking for Eric (2009)
- Route Irish (2010)
- The Angels' Share (2012)
- The Spirit of '45 (2013)
- Jimmy's Hall (2014)
- Golding, Simon W. - '(New & Updated - on KINDLE) Life After Kes: The Making of the British Film Classic, the People, the Story and Its Legacy.' Apex Publishing, Essex, 2014. ISBN 0-9548793-3-3
- Golding, Simon W. Life After Kes: The Making of the British Film Classic, the People, the Story and Its Legacy. Shropshire, UK: GET Publishing, 2006. ISBN 0-9548793-3-3