Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Ken Loach

FILM director Ken Loach is known for his hard hitting, gritty films which depict ordinary people telling working class stories.

So it comes as a bit of a surprise to find he is actually very gently and softly spoken.

What is not in doubt are his life long socialist values and beliefs which are evident in his treatment of social issues such as homelessness, poverty and labour rights in the films and documentaries he has made throughout his long and illustrious career.

He also has a penchant for egg custard tarts as I found out last week when I spoke to him ahead of a discussion he is leading at the Bussey Building in Peckham tomorrow.

"I've just got a mouthful of cake," he laughs by way of an introduction. "It was one of those egg custard tarts and it was very nice!"

Cake aside, Loach's career, which spans more than 50 years, is peppered with classics such as his documentary Cathy Come Home and films Kes, Riff-Raff, and The Wind That Shakes the Barley which won the prestigious Palme d'Or at the 2006 Cannes Film Festival.

And despite his age - he's 76 - he is not about to go and collect his pension either. His film Angel's Share was in cinemas earlier this year and he is currently working on a documentary on the post World War Two Labour government.

He is also preparing to take part in a post show discussion of The Ragged Trousers at Peckham's Bussey Building tomorrow.

The play, written by Stephen Lowe, has been adapted from Robert Tressell's 1914 book which charts a year in the life of a group of painters and decorators as they renovate a three-storey house for Mayor Sweater.

It traces their struggle for survival doing backbreaking work for low wages and the themes within it chime very well with those Loach has featured in his films over the years.

"The issue of workers creating wealth for other people is still very relevant," he says. "I read the book about 50 years ago but have never seen the play so I'm very much looking forward to it.

"It was written at about the same time the Labour party was formed and is a classic piece of socialist and working class literature. I know so many people who have been influenced by it, myself included.

"It's about how the system works and has to if it's to function. It explores the issues facing working people and it exposes the mechanism of society and how the wheels go round.

"It also goes right back to the inception of the Labour Party which I don't think has ever been a socialist party," he says. "It was trying to make capitalism work for ordinary people and that was its fatal flaw.

"It has never stood for the ideas on which it was founded which makes this such an important book."

I ask him if it's significant the play is being performed in Peckham.

"Peckham is one of those areas where people feel so alienated and removed from the sense they own or have any share in how society is run and feel they have nothing to lose," he says.

"That's what was so evident about the riots. It was an inarticulate shout of rage. It certainly shows us something is wrong with the way we organise society.

"This book shows that very clearly. These are ordinary people who are faced with similar issues to us now - unemployment or a cut in wages or the dismantling of the Welfare State which was actually Labour's biggest achievement.

"The system now can't pay for it and people are faced with the reality of that in their daily struggle.

"What we need is a new mass party of the left - what Labour should have been."

I ask him if he wants to set it up.

"I think it's a bit beyond me!" he laughs. "But I will be there waving the flag!"

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