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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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Tim Avenell
May 15th, 2018
9:05 AM
A refreshing and fair analysis of a director who if his politics were anything other than those of the fashionable left would be a nonentity. He is a propagandist distorting truth and fact to fit his own political prejudices. He is the Leni Riefenstahl of the Left

Stewart Knight
May 15th, 2018
8:05 AM
Absolutely fabulous and correct summation of the work of this second rate class warrior. He is the embodiment of UK far left activists who are right simply by virtue of their own views, as is the above facile and puerile comment. If Loach is so correct in his self righteous indignation portraying the poor downtrodden, why is almost all of his work fiction?

Lawrence James.
May 11th, 2018
11:05 AM
A facile piece. Whenever you see a Loach film you know what you are going to get just as you do when you watch an Eisenstein movie. As for winning prizes, his films were judged by cineasts and fellow professionals: would you ask the public to judge artworks or novels ? If you did then 'The Sound of Music' and 'The Da Vinci Code' would win hands down to the applause of the new demotic politics. Incidentally, 'The Wind that blows the Barley' is more nuanced than you think. It shows how revolutions can devour their own children, in this case the 1922 struggle within the Irish national movement which spawned a war as brutal as its predecessors against the forces of the British crown.

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