Born in Nuneaton in 1936, the son of an electrician, throughout his career as a filmmaker, Ken Loach has remained steadfastly true to his working-class roots. After studying law at Oxford and working in theatre, Loach made his first television films at the tail-end of the socially-conscious ‘Free Cinema’ movement in the late 1960s, following in the footsteps of Karel Reisz, Lindsay Anderson and Tony Richardson...
Loach’s television films from the 1960s, Up The Junction, Cathy Come Home and Poor Cow, made with little-known actors and often semi-improvised, brought social issues like poverty, homelessness and unemployment to attention of the British public. Cathy Come Home was watched by 12 million people when it was broadcast by the BBC in 1966, a quarter of the UK population at that time.
Loach’s cinematic debut Kes, a tender story about a young Northern English boy and his pet kestrel, was an unexpected critical and commercial success on release in 1970. From the outset, Loach was determined to capture life in Britain as realistically as possible; using hand-held cameras, natural lighting, location shooting and a blend of experienced and amateur actors who use their own, authentic regional accents.
Thatcher’s Britain in the 1980s was a lean period for Loach, who completed just two feature films, Looks & Smiles in 1981 and Fatherland in 1986, alongside a number of television films and documentaries. In 1990, Loach returned to cinema with the release of Hidden Agenda, a controversial political thriller about a military cover-up in Northern Ireland. A fictionalised account of the British Army’s ‘shoot-to-kill’ policy, Hidden Agenda won the Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival. Since then, Loach has directed roughly one feature film every year.
Hidden Agenda was written by Jim Allen, who went on to script the equally successful Raining Stones for Loach in 1992 and the Spanish Civil War drama Land & Freedom in 1995. Loach’s other great screenwriting collaborator is Scottish writer Paul Laverty, whose credits for the director now runs to eight titles, including My Name Is Joe (1998), Bread & Roses (2000), the Palme d’Or-winning The Wind That Shakes The Barley (2006) and 2011’s Route Irish.
Although his later films have seen the director incorporate elements of comedy, history and melodrama, Loach has never compromised his political principles, bringing issues of social justice, inhumanity and hypocrisy to cinema audiences around the world. Few directors have been as consistent in their themes and their style or as passionate about their politics. His naturalistic techniques and direct style lend his films an immediacy and plausibility that have been a source of inspiration to British filmmaking contemporaries, including Michael Winterbottom, Shane Meadows and some-time collaborator Peter Mullan. Forty years on from his debut film, Loach is still trying to change the world through the lens of a movie camera.
Key Films: Poor Cow (1969), Kes (1970), Hidden Agenda (1990), Riff-Raff (1993), Raining Stones (1992), Land & Freedom (1995), My Name Is Joe (1998), The Wind That Shakes The Barley (2006), Looking For Eric (2009), Route Irish (2011).