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Like the Italian neo-realists (especially Vittorio De Sica) who served as his inspiration, Ken Loach has acquired a reputation as the leading socially conscious director working in Britain. A quiet, soft-spoken man, he hardly seems the "dean of leftist movie makers" (as he was dubbed by THE NEW YORK TIMES in June 1998). The son of a working-class factory worker, Loach served in the Royal Air Force, studied law and then worked in theater, first as an understudy and later touring Birmingham in a repertory company. To make end meet, he picked up work as a teacher.
In the early 1960s, Loach apprenticed as a director at a commercials company before joining the BBC where he graduating to helming episodes of the series "Z-Cars" in 1962. Former actor and committed socialist Tony Garnett was hired by the BBC to serve as producer of a new series "The Wednesday Play." Loach and Garnett worked together closely and pioneered the format of what has been termed "the docudrama," a mix of techniques employed by the evening news and the fictional film, using location shooting and often casting non-professional actors. Loach first garnered attention for "Up the Junction" (1965), which profiled three impoverished working-class women, and cemented his reputation with "Cathy Comes Home" (1966), about a couple forced by economic circumstances to live on the streets. The film proved controversial and led to the establishment of Shelter, an advocacy group for the homeless.
Loach moved into features with "Poor Cow" (1967), adapted from Nell Dunn's novel about a shrewish woman, her thieving husband and her criminal lover. Employing a similar cinema-verite style and the leftist principles that infused his TV work, the film was a surprising financial success. Now partnered with Garnett, Loach went on to turn out several stark, socially-conscious films noted for their semi-documentary quality and often performed by well-cast non-professional actors. "Kes" (1969) was a poignant study of a teenaged loner, his pet kestrel falcon and his rebellion against the restrictions of the local Yorkshire school system. Despite initial favorable reaction, the film was held from release until 1970. For much of the next two decades, Loach alternated between television and features. His small screen work included the acclaimed "The Rank and File" (1971), focusing on a strike at a glass manufacturer and the workers' discontent with its union leadership, and the four-part historical drama "Days of Hope" (1975), which traced one family from 1914 to 1926. His film output was, however, light in the 70s and included the psychodrama "Family Life" (1971) and the atypical historical adventure "Black Jack" (1979).
With the rise of Margaret Thatcher, the monies for the kinds of films Loach wanted to direct was not as available. He began to drop the use of dramatizations and began making more conventional documentaries. Loach ran into some problems with "A Question of Leadership" (1981) and the four-part "Questions of Leadership" (filmed in 1984). The former was edited for "balance" while the latter never aired due to legal wranglings by the trade unions over issues of defamation. Even his documentary on a coal miners' strike "Which Side Are You On?" (1985) was dropped by London Weekend Television which had commissioned the project. It finally aired along with another documentary that was less sympathetic to the miners' plight.
Not that he didn't still make features. "Looks and Smiles" (1981) examined a young man's search for employment while both "Fatherland/Singing the Blues in Red" (1986; released in the USA in 1988), and the highly controversial "Hidden Agenda" (1990) dealt with more overt political themes.
By the 90s. Loach had returned in force to feature work. The comedy/drama "Riff-Raff" (1991) was the first of three films to examine the ramifications of Thatcher's policies on the working-class. "Riff-Raff" looked at union-busting on a construction site whereas "Raining Stones" (1993) followed an unemployed man who was trying to scrape together the money for his daughter's communion dress. The powerful "Ladybird, Ladybird" (1994) was a based-on-fact tale of a single mother exploited by the men in her life who fights the social service system over custody of her children. In a slight change of pace, Loach handled the diptych "Land and Freedom" (1995), which followed a British man's journey to fight against Franco in the Spanish Civil War, and "Carla's Song" (1996), about the relationship between a Glaswegian bus driver and a Nicaraguan refugee who return to her homeland circa 1987. Both are highly political and both are set primarily out of the United Kingdom. Loach delivered searing indictments of the fractious democratic republicans in the former and the US government and its covert involvement with the Contras in the latter. "My Name Is Joe" (1998) returned the focus to more localized social issues by following an unemployed recovering alcoholic who forges an unlikely relationship with a health worker.
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