Who cares wins

For­five decades Ken Loach has­been a cham­pion ofthe dis­pose ssed: ‘It’s the mo­ments of hope that make you catch your breath,’ he tells Tara Brady

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - MUSIC -

Ken Loach tears up as he re­calls a scene in Which Side Are You On?, his 1984 film about the songs and po­etry of the min­ers’ strike, in which a woman from the north­east de­cries the “Iron Lady” and raises her fist in the air.

“That al­ways gets me,” says Loach (80). “You have to be ob­ser­va­tional. You have to eval­u­ate what you are do­ing. But it’s the mo­ments of hope that make you catch your breath. You have to have to feel the strug­gle in that hope. Most peo­ple don’t wal­low in their poverty. Most peo­ple just get by, but with a

brave face. That’s so touch­ing.”

We meet in cen­tral Manch­ester: the film-maker has just ar­rived from New­cas­tle, where many of the non-pro­fes­sional ac­tors who pop­u­late I, Daniel

Blake en­joyed a red-car­pet pre­miere the pre­vi­ous evening. It was a par­tic­u­larly spe­cial oc­ca­sion, he notes, for those who work within the ben­e­fits sec­tor. “Many of them are leav­ing,” he says. “They sim­ply can’t tol­er­ate what they are be­ing asked to do.”

Away for so long

The last time we met, Loach had just com­pleted the his­tor­i­cal Ir­ish drama Jimmy’s Hall, and he seemed quite cer­tain that he would not be un­der­tak­ing a fea­ture film of that size again.

“With Jimmy’s Hall, I was away from home for a long time. My mis­sus got a bit fed up with me be­ing away for so long. And I thought, well, maybe this is the right time to stop it. I’m not get­ting any younger.

“But then I still work with [screen­writer] Paul Laverty. And one story kept com­ing up over and over again – the cru­elty of the ben­e­fits and sanc­tions sys­tem. And I thought, why not have a go?”

The re­sult is I, Daniel Blake, a su­perb, stir­ring drama that rightly took the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Fes­ti­val.

If the de­tails weren’t drawn from life, one would be tempted to call the film Kafkaesque: fol­low­ing a se­ri­ous heart at­tack, car­pen­ter Daniel (Dave Johns) is ad­vised by his doc­tor to take a break from work. But when the wid­ower ap­plies for em­ploy­ment and sup­port al­lowance, his an­swers prove un­sat­is­fac­tory for the bu­reau­cracy, who bounce him on to ap­ply for job­seeker’s al­lowance.

Daniel’s strug­gle against a mine­field of red tape and mumbo-jumbo is made a lit­tle eas­ier by his friend­ship with Katie (Hay­ley Squires), a young sin­gle mother who has moved with her two chil­dren from Lon­don to New­cas­tle. They are now hun­dreds of miles from fam­ily and friends, but it was ei­ther that or stay cooped up in one room in a home­less per­sons’ hos­tel.

“We could have made it much more ex­treme,” says Loach. “We kept hear­ing ex­tra­or­di­nary sto­ries. Many sto­ries of sui­cide. One as­pect of the aus­ter­ity cuts is the dev­as­tat­ing ef­fect on dis­abled peo­ple. They have been hit six times harder. These are peo­ple who need our help, not our dis­missal. They just get kicked to death. Paul and I thought we needed a cen­tral char­ac­ter who isn’t an ob­vi­ous vic­tim. A man with a trade. A man who is thought­ful and ca­pa­ble.”

Most ur­gent

Fol­low­ing a string of lighter come­dies ( Look­ing for Eric, The An­gel’s Share) and his­tor­i­cal dra­mas ( The Wind That Shakes the Bar­ley, Jimmy’s Hall), I,

Daniel Blake feels like Loach’s most ur­gent film since Cathy

Come Home way back in 1966. The BBC drama fa­mously prompted de­bate in par­lia­ment and changed at­ti­tudes to­ward home­less­ness.

“I think that’s right,” nods Loach. “This is a story that needs to be at the cen­tre of our po­lit­i­cal dis­cus­sion. It’s not some char­i­ta­ble side­line.”

Some 50 years punc­tu­ated by dozens of Loach pro­jects have elapsed be­tween Cathy and Daniel’s re­spec­tive crises. But the softly spo­ken film-maker has lost none of his ap­petite for giant-slay­ing.

“The ab­di­ca­tion of the Labour Party – their en­dorse­ment of aus­ter­ity mea­sures with just a few mi­nor quib­bles – led to peo­ple see­ing no ma­jor dif­fer­ences be­tween the par­ties,” he says. “So they feel alien­ated and cyn­i­cal about pol­i­tics. There is no lead­er­ship or voice on real is­sues. And, of course, the pop­u­lar press are pump­ing out rightwing pro­pa­ganda ev­ery day.

“Alien­ated, ne­glected peo­ple made for a breed­ing ground for the far-right and fas­cism. They re­spond to sim­ple an­swers like ‘kick out the im­mi­grants’.”

Still, Loach re­mains hope­ful. The era of Brexit and Trump is also the time of Syriza, Bernie San­ders and Jeremy Cor­byn.

“The only glim­mer of hope is the new lead­er­ship of the Labour party, which is why the es­tab­lish­ment have at­tacked Cor­byn so vi­ciously. Be­cause he does ac­tu­ally rep­re­sent a dif­fer­ent pol­i­tics. The pol­i­tics of pub­lic in­vest­ment. That’s the first step. Re­move the pri­vate con­trac­tors from the NHS. Make them ef­fi­cient again. Em­ploy peo­ple di­rectly in­stead of ten­der­ing to multi­na­tion­als. Re­move busi­ness from trans­port.

“What has been in­ter­est­ing about the Labour con­test is that it has laid bare the fun­da­men­tal di­vide be­tween a right wing that want to do what the Tories do but with a pret­tier face, and a left wing who want to ef­fect real change.”

That same ten­sion has been felt in Loach’s work as long ago as 1981, when A Ques­tion of

Lead­er­ship, his doc­u­men­tary por­trait of the steel­work­ers’ strike, was pulled from the broad­cast­ing sched­ules. This was one of many brushes with cen­sor­ship, but even now, he would not think about sweet­en­ing the mes­sages of his most hard-hit­ting works.

“Well, there was no way to change the cen­tral premise of A

Ques­tion of Lead­er­ship, which was that Labour and the trade unions col­luded with Thatcher car­ry­ing through what she wanted to carry through. The Labour lead­er­ship didn’t want to have to deal with a strong trade union move­ment when they got back into power. The union lead­ers had sold their own mem­bers jobs out.

“That’s the lim­i­ta­tion of so­cial demo­crat pol­i­tics. The boss has got to make a profit. There was no other way of say­ing it.”

He laughs. “And in the end, they didn’t let it be said at all.”

In front of the lens

Loach is full of praise for Louise Os­mond, who di­rected Ver­sus: The Life and Films of Ken Loach last year. Still, he found the other side of the cam­era some­what un­com­fort­able.

“I have no quar­rel with the film at all. But I did wish the peo­ple who have con­trib­uted to the films got a bit more time. The ac­tors, the ed­i­tor, the sound recordists, all con­trib­uted as much as I did. I hated tak­ing the credit for all of it.”

The only glim­mer of hope is the new lead­er­ship of the Labour party, which is why the es­tab­lish­ment have at­tacked Cor­byn so vi­ciously – he does ac­tu­ally rep­re­sent a dif­fer­ent pol­i­tics

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Ireland

© PressReader. All rights reserved.