Bush is after Iraq's oil. He can't be seen to back down now' By Simon O'Hagan 02 February 2021

02-02-2021 By Simon O'Hagan

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Ken Loach may be one of the most politically engaged British film-makers of the last 40 years, but you don't often see him stepping out from behind the camera to support a cause. "It's something I try not to do," he says. "Otherwise when people come and see the films they're too aware of your public presence and all they can hear is you shouting away."

With impending war in Iraq, however, Loach has broken cover and he is out there lending his considerable weight to the movement that is seeking to halt Bush and Blair before it is too late. "This is such a huge issue and the stakes are so high that I think that over-rides any reservations you might have."

From the mid-1960s landmark TV dramas Up the Junction and Cathy Come Home to last year's Sweet Sixteen an unflinching look at teenage life on Clydeside Loach's films have dwelt on forgotten and underprivileged lives and in the process done nothing less than help change the way Britain sees itself. Not many artists are worthy of such a claim and if there was a drama to be made about Iraqi families in Baghdad as they face the prospect of a US-British attack, then Loach would be the man. Instead he's urging the news teams to do the job. "Of course you only have to use your imagination to realise their plight. But that's what we should be seeing."

The popular perception of the 66-year-old Loach is that of a rather dour, earnest figure, a socialist of the old school who needs truths to be uncomfortable for him to be interested in them. In fact, that is to overlook the lyricism and tenderness of many of his films, and in person he has a modesty and humour at odds with any notion of joyless polemicism.

But his criticisms of Blair's record as Labour leader, and of his conduct in the build-up to war, are withering. "He's destroyed the party," says Loach, who resigned his Labour membership in the mid-1990s, soon after Blair became leader. "No longer can it be said to represent the left in any sense. For a Labour government to be taking this line on war says it all." The glimmer of hope for Loach is his certainty that the vacuum created by Labour's move to the right will be soon be filled which is where he thinks the anti-war movement comes in.

"The war might appear to be a single issue, but its implications go much deeper than just the fighting. It's driven by the demands of big business, and under Blair that's what everything has become subservient to. So all sorts of other issues are implicit in the war the identification of our future with big business, the way big business is destroying the planet, the way it's going to be running our schools and hospitals.

"It's interesting that Blair's allies in Europe on the question of war are all on the right Berlusconi, and Aznar, who's the hard right in Spain. And we mustn't forget that this is not about the weapons; it's about control of the oil, which means the US has to have a compliant regime in charge in Iraq." Not that Loach holds out much hope of conflict being avoided: "It's hard to see how Bush could lose sufficient face to back down."

The son of an electrician, Loach grew up in Warwickshire during the Second World War. He did National Service and went to Oxford University where his interest in drama flourished, but politics did not enter his life until he joined the BBC as a trainee director in the early 1960s. There he was one of a group of young turks among them the now equally distinguished producer Tony Garnett who wanted to make powerful, realistic films that would draw attention to social inequalities. Loach has hardly looked back since. Did he ever consider going into politics" "I haven't got a good enough memory," he says. "And in any case I was always stage-struck."

Loach has made some 15 films in a career that stalled in the 1980s but has picked up in the last 10 years with such critically acclaimed work as Land and Freedom, Carla's Song and My Name is Joe. Now a grandfather, his energy is undiminished. He begins shooting his next film in the summer.

Loach has remained pretty much British-based, his forays abroad including only one film in America. "I can't think of a good reason to go to the States to make a film," Loach says. "It's the most difficult place to work just a very aggressive, unsmiling country, whereas you go to Nicaragua to make a film and the people might not have a pot to piss in, but they are a joy and they make you welcome.

"I'm not enamoured of the States, but there is always the caveat that there are some great people there and, for example, the trade unions are in a way much more politically literate than ours. But as a culture I find it anathema." Little that George Bush is doing at the moment is likely to change Loach's views.


1936 Born, Nuneaton. King Edward VI Grammar School then, after National Service, Oxford University

1961 Assistant director, Northampton Rep Theatre

1963 Trainee director, BBC: three episodes ofZ Cars

1965 Up the Junction, first full-length drama in Wednesday Play slot, thenCathy Come Home

1969 Acclaimed feature film, Kes

1975 Days of Hope, epic TV dramatisation of Labour movement in the 1920s

1990 After long fallow period, returns with Northern Ireland-based drama Hidden Agenda

1991 Riff-Raff marks start of series of cinema successes Raining Stones, Ladybird Ladybird, Land and Freedom, Carla's Song, My Name is Joe, Bread and Roses, Sweet Sixteen


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