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Ken Loach:
There are serious problems with his work, his politics and his reputation (Illustration by Michael Daley)

Ken Loach has directed almost 30 TV dramas and 26 films over the past 50 years, most notably Cathy Come Home and Kes in the 1960s and, more recently, I, Daniel Blake. He has been hailed as one of Britain’s leading postwar directors and received numerous awards: the Cannes Special Jury Prize (twice), the Palme d’Or at Cannes (twice) and the Honorary Golden Bear at the 64th Berlin International Film Festival. His films are often moving accounts of homelessness, mental illness and poverty in contemporary Britain. They usually depict the clash between ordinary people facing terrible problems and uncaring authorities, whether housing officers, school teachers or social security officials. Their indifference is contrasted with the humanity of Loach’s working men and women, battling with poverty and terrible working conditions. He has also made films about left-wing causes abroad: the violence of the Contras in Nicaragua (Carla’s Song) and the Spanish Civil War (Land and Freedom).

Loach has never pretended to be even-handed. He has always been a passionate political activist. In 1985 he made a documentary about the poetry and music that emerged from the miners’ strike, Which Side Are You On? There has never been any doubt which side Loach has been on, at home or abroad.

All this is fine, in many ways admirable. There is no denying Loach’s achievements, his productivity or his burning sense of social justice. However, there are serious problems with his work, his politics and his reputation. His use of documentary material in drama-documentaries prompted Grace Wyndham Goldie to accuse him in the 1960s of sidestepping the BBC’s rules about political partisanship. In the 1980s his documentary A Question of Leadership, attacking the trade union leadership for allegedly betraying the rank and file, was criticised by the Independent Broadcasting Authority for its anti-government stance.

His film about Ireland, The Wind That Shakes the Barley,  championed the IRA. A friend of the hero, Damien, is executed by the British Black and Tans, and his girlfriend’s farmhouse is burnt to the ground. The film ends with Damien being shot by a firing squad. Should a British filmmaker offer a more complex or even-handed treatment of Ireland? Not Loach.

It was this issue of even-handedness that led to another controversy over Which Side Are You On?, originally commissioned by Melvyn Bragg, himself a lifelong Labour supporter, for The South Bank Show. LWT cancelled it because the programme Loach delivered was considered too politically partisan for an arts programme.
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Lawrence James.
June 3rd, 2018
8:06 PM
Sorry for the typo. Not sorry for being an elitist: like the rest of us I depend upon elites - solicitors, architects,vets, electricians, doctors &c. In brief, all those people with professional expertise and experience. I am not a leftist, having voted Tory since Douglas Hume was PM,but I have no truck with the new, populist right.

May 23rd, 2018
5:05 AM
I wish he'd use a tripod: that faux-nervous/pseudo-documentary handheld camera may have been 'edgy' forty years ago, but now is just naff.

May 16th, 2018
10:05 AM
'He told an interviewer last year: “Israel is breaking international law, the Geneva Conventions, stealing land that belongs to another people and making the lives of the Palestinians intolerable.” Presumably if he'd said: “Israel is not breaking international law, or the Geneva Conventions, or stealing land that belongs to another people and is not making the lives of the Palestinians intolerable” he would have been praised for being biased in his view of Israel government policies.

Anglican Honza
May 15th, 2018
9:05 PM
Whether it is cause and effect I don't know but I find most news programs in the UK to be unwatchable because of their relentless Loach-like spin.

May 15th, 2018
9:05 PM
Lawrence James, if you can't get the name of the film (and the famous song it is taken from) right, don't bother to comment. 'And yet despite all this, the more left-wing and partisan his films are, the more prizes he wins.' The first three words should surely be replaced with 'And of course, because of'.

Sam Duncan
May 15th, 2018
5:05 PM
“would you ask the public to judge artworks or novels ?“ The art establishment derided the impressionists. “Citizen Kane” didn't win a single Oscar (nor did “Rebel Without a Cause” or “Psycho”; the list of films that weren't even nominated is staggering: “His Girl Friday”, “A Matter of Life and Death”, “The Lady Vanishes”, “A Bout de Souffle”...). When I compare what the public think, and what awards panels think, sure, they're not always “right”, but the public tend to have a much better strike rate. I think we'd agree on the “Da Vinci Code”, but what exactly is wrong with “The Sound of Music”? Not to my taste, but a perfectly good movie. The Academy finally awarded Jimmy Stewart, widely regarded as possibly the finest movie actor who ever lived, an honorary Oscar after a fifty year career in 1985. Probably out of embarrassment. The public knew.

May 15th, 2018
2:05 PM
Lawrence James: with that one little phrase "would you ask the public to judge artworks or novels ?" You have shown us what an elitist lefty you are. How ironic that those of a more metropolitan left-wing persuasion spend their time looking down their noses at the 'great unwashed,' for whom they claim to speak.

Steve Hunt
May 15th, 2018
1:05 PM
I'm intrigued to know if these works of Ken's were in part, if not completely funded by Arts Quangos/NGOs in the UK.. and whether, if he had to find the funding for them on the open market, like a lot of other producers, whether he would still keep on churning out these polemics? Just a thought.

Little Black Sambo
May 15th, 2018
10:05 AM
"...would you ask the public to judge artworks or novels?" Heaven forbid! We can't have the public meddling in things that they don't understand.

peter lucey
May 15th, 2018
10:05 AM
"Whenever you see a Loach film you know what you are going to get" I'm not a close student of his work, but I'd agree with that. He's a talented filmmaker with an axe to grind. This gets in the way sometimes: I saw "I Daniel Blake" and the polemic spoilt it. Well acted, but the experience was like being hit on the head repeatedly. The poor single mother forced into prostitution (and collapsing at the foodbank) was well staged - but where were the fathers of her two children? Having one child by a feckless man is one thing, but two by different deadbeats? What if she decided to have another, by some guy who just abandoned them again? Am I, a poor taxpayer, supposed to pay out even more? (and would'nt she be jailed for non-payment for BBC licence fee? - mind you, the BBC funded it so Loach probably skipped that!). These non-PC feelings were inspired by the one-sided story. Please Mr Loach, make more films but be more nuanced :)

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