Di­rec­tor Ken Loach and the Trou­bles He’s Seen

Film­maker Turns His Keen Eye on Ire­land’s Strug­gle For In­de­pen­dence

The Washington Post Sunday - - Arts -

Bri­tish di­rec­tor Ken Loach has de­fined some­thing of a gold stan­dard in tough so­cial-re­al­ist film­mak­ing, an heir to the Ital­ian neo-real­ists of the 1940s and East­ern Euro­pean new wave of the 1960s. Over four decades, with such films as “Kes” (1969), “Riff-Raff” (1990), “La­dy­bird La­dy­bird” (1994) and “My Name Is Joe” (1998), he has cre­ated un­for­get­table por­traits of char­ac­ters most of­ten found on the mar­gins of main­stream movies, or left out al­to­gether.

Of course, Loach, 70, might ob­ject to the term “gold stan­dard.” A so­cial­ist, he has main­tained a stead­fast com­mit­ment to a col­lec­tivist, class-ori­ented un­der­stand­ing of pol­i­tics and his­tory. What’s more, he’s man­aged to achieve an en­vi­able de­gree of longevity in a fickle busi­ness, fi­nanc­ing his films through Euro­pean co-pro­duc­tion and mak­ing them mod­estly but con­sis­tently prof­itable.

Loach was in New York re­cently, dis­cussing his new film, “The Wind That Shakes the Bar­ley,” about the fight for Ir­ish in­de­pen­dence from Bri­tish oc­cu­pa­tion in 1920, which re­sulted in the Bri­tish leav­ing south­ern Ire­land, the par­ti­tion of north­ern Ire­land, and decades of bru­tal sec­tar­ian vi­o­lence.

The film, which stars Cil­lian Mur­phy as a fic­tional early mem­ber of the Ir­ish Repub­li­can Army, won the Palme d’Or at Cannes last year and opens in Wash­ing­ton on Fri­day.

— Ann Hornaday

Q. A. It’s a story we wanted to do for a long time, re­ally. . . . It’s the most im­por­tant mo­ment in An­glo-Ir­ish his­tory. Be­cause be­fore, Ire­land was a colony, and af­ter it was largely in­de­pen­dent, so this was the turn­ing point.

It’s a story that the Ir­ish know very well and the Bri­tish don’t know at all. If you were to ask most peo­ple in Bri­tain, they would say that the Bri­tish are in Ire­land to stop the Ir­ish fight­ing

Why this film, why now?

each other — and that Bri­tain has no re­spon­si­bil­ity for that: “We’re just there out of the good­ness of our hearts.” I mean, there’s no sense of the vi­o­lence done to the Ir­ish.

The fact that peace was so close at hand will sur­prise most Amer­i­can au­di­ences.

What’s in­ter­est­ing is, this hand­ful of peo­ple ac­tu­ally got the Bri­tish Em­pire — the most pow­er­ful em­pire in the world — out of their coun­try. And then, just when they were on the brink of al­most to­tal vic­tory, the deal that the Bri­tish of­fered ac­tu­ally scup­pered the chance at peace for a cen­tury. They could have just taken the demo­cratic de­ci­sion of the Ir­ish peo­ple in 1918, that they should be in­de­pen­dent and united. They could have just with­drawn, and that was it. End of killing. But no, they had to screw it up.

The al­le­gor­i­cal as­so­ci­a­tions with the U.S. oc­cu­pa­tion in Iraq are in­escapable. Was that your aim?

Well, it wasn’t the rea­son for mak­ing it. It’s such a clas­sic ex­am­ple of an im­pe­ri­al­ist power be­ing forced to with­draw and how it with­draws, so when­ever you make it there will be some sit­u­a­tion, some­where, that you can make a com­par­i­son [with]. One com­par­i­son you can make [with Iraq] is that an army of oc­cu­pa­tion against the wishes of the peo­ple al­ways leads to a spi­ral of vi­o­lence.

You are con­sid­ered one of the pro­gen­i­tors of con­tem­po­rary Bri­tish so­cial­ist re­al­ism, both po­lit­i­cally and aes­thet­i­cally. In Amer­ica, we seem to have ei­ther main­stream Hol­ly­wood films with a po­lit­i­cally ori­ented plot, like “Erin Brock­ovich,” or doc­u­men­taries like “An In­con­ve­nient Truth.”

I would say the films that come out of Hol­ly­wood are very po­lit­i­cal. “Truth Needs a Sol­dier.” The CIA films. The Cold War films. I mean, the films that come out of Hol­ly­wood are very right-wing. Very re­ac­tionary. “One man with a gun will solve your prob­lems.” “Look at all my wealth and wor­ship it.” Also, it’s an in­di­vid­ual. It’s not the col­lec­tive. And that says a lot, doesn’t it? Be­cause the left is about col­lec­tive ac­tion, and the right is about the pow­er­ful in­di­vid­ual.

Did Hol­ly­wood ever beckon?

I had in­vi­ta­tions to come to Amer­ica in the early 1970s, but we had four kids un­der the age of 6, so it just didn’t seem a good thing to do. There wasn’t a re­ally good rea­son to come ex­cept to pur­sue money and fame, and who needs that? [Laughs]

Do you go to the movies?

Not very of­ten, no, I’m afraid not. I go and watch the foot­ball more, be­cause you don’t know how they’re go­ing to end. With films, you re­ally know how they’re go­ing to end most of the time.

What do you make of the medium right now?

All the films are the same. It’s like hav­ing McDon­ald’s and KFC ev­ery­where. They’re all over­played, and they’re all over­dra­ma­tized. The emo­tions are hyped up, and the mu­sic is laid on with a trowel, and it’s just crude, re­ally. That’s what’s sad. The medium can’t breathe for this strait­jacket that ev­ery­body’s in. It’s just an as­sault.

And if your kids are go­ing, they’re just be­ing bat­tered, re­ally. And they’ll get ac­cus­tomed to that, un­til the still small voice just doesn’t have a place.


“It’s a story that the Ir­ish know very well and the Bri­tish don’t know at all,” Loach says of his topic in “The Wind That Shakes the Bar­ley.”

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