CHAPTER ONE: Learning to live

 What does Loach like to show? People in trouble, or people who are trying to get out of these troubles, but who cannot, whatever the reason is?
All his movies feature individuals who desperately want and try to get out of situations that make them unhappy, and even if they do not succeed in doing it, the films focus as much on the causes of their failure as on the human efforts to retrieve a kind of dignity. In My Name Is Joe, Joe fails to save Liam from the dealer McGowan as he fails to preserve his relationship with Sarah. But Loach shows how hard Joe tries to do his best in both situations: he is often shot running, his body is in constant motion. The physical efforts he makes stand for the amount of comprehension and care he is able to show for others. In this respect, the football team is a device used by Loach to represent a kind of microcosm in which friendship and solidarity are possible. It is seen as a process of socialization: the game has its rules, and players have to respect them if they want to win. They can ask someone for help and advice if they need some (the captain). The team keeps admittedly loosing; but the act of learning is more important than a sportive performance. The viewer is constantly made aware of what it costs to Joe to remain out of drinking, and to prevent Liam from having his legs broken.
It seems that happiness begins when dignity is intact, for Loach. In his movies, happiness is not a matter of great feelings and emotions (or not only that), because the characters are in need of things even more basic than that: their needs stick to a day-to-day reality: shelter, money, work. This is the case in Cathy Come Home, Raining Stones, or Riff-Raff. But when those basic needs are provided for, Loachian characters are in search of belonging to a community. The uncomprehension faced by characters like Maggie in Ladybird or Janice in Family Life surrounds them to such a point that it conditions their relations to others. This is clearly what makes most characters unhappy in the end. On top of financial and material difficulties, they do not find any comfort from social services. Loach shows that societies similar to the British society don't play the supporting role they claim to be able to play.
Two films staged the classical learning time, childhood: Kes(1969), and Black Jack(1979). In Kes, a young boy called Billy lives in a poor northern city, and he finds it hard to be integrated among his schoolmates, because of his extreme shyness, and also because he is not good at playing football. He finds a kestrel and starts to train him. The training becomes a passion, which Billy finds very satisfying and rewarding. He is able to speak about his new experience in front of his classmates. He feels different, almost new to himself. He has become someone from whom others can learn something. In his own way, he has found his place in the world that surrounds him. His close relation with the kestrel could have cut him from the rest of the world, but on the contrary it has enabled him to share something with others. The fact that the kestrel is a symbol of wilderness, of the natural world, is interesting because it means that what has enabled Billy to be more integrated in his class and to get a certain respect from others, is not the help of a man or a woman, whereas it should have been so, if one considers the socializing role school is supposed to have. In this film, school doesn't play the role of socialization it is traditionally supposed to play. The world around Billy is cruel, and stays as such even if he can forget and escape it for a moment. When his brother kills the kestrel, Billy arranges a kind of funerals. This ritualization puts him in the world of adults for good. Yet, he is shot in a close-up frame, with leaves and branches around him. He chooses to bury the animal in the forest where it belongs; he seems to have understood the respect that was due to living beings.
Black Jack is a film that is considered as minor in Loach's filmography. It is quite a shame, because this 18th century social tale is very interesting in many respects. It is full of metaphors: the journey that Tolly and Belle make with the stallholders represents Tolly's growing up and becoming a man. Moreover, the time this journey takes enables all of the group to understand Belle, and to understand her language. Language is meaningful to Loach; the way people talk is important to him, and he works a lot on regional accents, that define social backgrounds, according to him. It defines a whole culture; that may be why he likes to melt several languages in a movie: German and English in Fatherland, Spanish and English in Land and Freedom(1995), Bread and Roses, or Carla's Song. As viewers may find it hard to understand all of them, they are made aware of the complexity of relationships between people who don't talk the same language, literally or metaphorically…Indeed, some films give the impression that people from the same country do not mean the same things while speaking the same idioms. Going back to Black Jack, Belle's problem is not her accent, but the way she thinks and how she signifies her needs. It takes time and understanding from  others to be aware that she is not insane nor dangerous. Coming from a bourgeois family, she is very constrained, partly because  her family is ashamed of her,  and the film is also about the way she frees herself from her background, and how she frees others from their prejudices about different people.
With this film Loach wanted to show that authentic contact and relationships between people could help to change them: Tolly helps Belle but he also helps Jacques (the eponymous villain), who redeems himself at the end of the film. This movie came directly after Family Life, interestingly enough. Both of them condemn familial constraint, showing in different ways how far it can go. They also criticise a medical system which whatever the century is more interested in money than in the patient's health (this is very clear in Black Jack, in which doctors keep acting according to the money they will be given from Belle's father). In both Black Jack and Family Life, the relation between doctors and those who are sick and need them is metaphorical of the relation between those who govern and those who are governed. The question of balance of power is very important, because more generally, it raises the question of legitimacy of power in societies: What is the status of those who are governed in the society depicted by Loach? What should it be?


CHAPTER TWO : The Aristotelian conception of citizenship.

 The amount of social criticism is huge in Loach’s films. Greediness , lack of humanity, financial and political interests… all this is responsible for the degradation of the social welfare. According to Loach’s mise en scene, working- class people are often put apart or forgotten. What is questioned is their authentic citizenship and the right they have to claim for justice and social help, the right to things that would enable them to be heard. Citizenship is central in Loach’s movies because they always try to define what is, or what it should be, and how it is important in order to make a social cohesion: Having a sense of belonging to a community does not only mean  having to pay taxes: the community has to give back as much as it receives, in terms of support to those who mostly need it.
Citizenship is thus linked to happiness: a trustful society is able make those who compose it happy. This is very close to Aristotle’s concept of men’s place in every city/“polis”. He states that a city is an association, and that “[…] all associations come into being for the sake of some good-for all men do all their acts with a view to achieving something which is, in their view, a good.”[15]
Aristotle wrote the Politics after he made a series of observations on different forms of existing governments; from oligarchies to democracies. What he sought to find was the best political system in which, according to him, individuals would be able to be happy, according to their individual needs and status. The Politics are a set of advice meant to describe what an ideal society could be. A parallel can be drawn between the Politics and Loach’s work: the films describe what a society should not be, how the citizens’ expectations can be turned down because of social gaps. This is particularly the case in Ladybird, Ladybird and Cathy Come Home. Viewers have the feeling that the British society and its institutions, and the individuals who compose it come from two different worlds; they do not share the same interests: Loach makes it clear that the interest of those who run the institutions lies in spending the least possible on those who would mostly need it; as a consequence, they have to make those people silent, and everything that’s useful in order to make it possible is done: intimidation, threats, getting into others’ private lives… In Ladybird, the scenes of opposition between Maggie and police forces are shot so as to signify the gap between a human being and opposing forces: Chrissy Rock, who performs the character of Maggie, is shot in close-ups, whereas the policemen who want to take her baby away are shot from a certain distance, as if the viewer could not get close to them. Moreover, they do not act in natural way: their gestures are mechanical, and so is their way of talking. The film is about people who are not considered valuable enough to be helped the way they should be (this is true for Maggie as well as for Jorge), to whom higher classes will not care to be fair; but the way it is shot features those who are responsible as those who do not deserve the status of citizen. Still according to Aristotle, the city is defined by the freedom its members benefit from: "Those constitutions which consider only the personal interests of the rulers are all wrong constitutions, or perversion of the right forms. Such perverted forms are despotic; whereas the city is an association of free men".[16] In Loach's films, despotic figures often seek to deprive central characters from their original status of citizen, as being a free human being. In this respect, Cathy Come Home  is very interesting because it portrays the state servants who evict Cathy and her family in a curious way: they walk up and down the corridor, heads down, all wearing the same kind of clothes, same colors, as if they were coming to spread conformism and uniformisation. In the scene where Cathy’s children are taken away from her, at the station, the people from the social services and the policemen look like a mass swooping down on Cathy. The scene is shot in low angle so that viewers can see Cathy disappear under this mass. Even her lively blonde hair is covered by the dark blue coats.
To loach, being a citizen means caring for others, and he describes exactly what it is: Bob and Tommy may be penniless, but they still give a little money when the bar tenant of the pub where they are trying to sell their meat asks them to give for a boy to go to Lourdes. Loach also shoots people -usually from upper classes-who think they are good citizens and who are not in reality: in Bread and Roses, lawyers and directors who work in the building where Maya and all the janitors work keep ignoring them, thus implicitly guarantying their unhappy lot.
What is striking in all Loch’s movies is the lack of cohesion in the society he depicts: a society that keeps perpetrating injustices against working-class people. Once again, this finds an echo in Aristotle’s Politics: “Man is a political animal”, because he naturally tends to associate himself with others. But one of the fundamental characteristic of the city he founds with others is justice:"The virtue of justice belongs to the city; for justice is an ordering of the political association, and the virtue of justice consists in determination of what is just".[17]
According to Aristotle, men have a finality only in the city. It is as such, because he states that it is in men’s very nature to be part of a city and men cannot be fully satisfied nor happy in another system. Moreover, the city produces benefits that can be shared by all its members, thus directly concurring to their happiness. If we try to link this to Loach’s description of British society, we see that the Aristotelian “polis” is criticized because it has lost its beneficent powers, and also because some of its members have been more or less dismissed. As a consequence, it is very important, even vital as it is part of human nature, to fight for civil rights. The message is clear in every movie.


CHAPTER THREE: The organic city. 

The stories filmed by Ken Loach are most often situated in urban areas. This is partly due to most of the script writers he worked with. Jim Allen, for instance, comes from the northern city of Manchester, and he acknowledges that he writes according to what he knows best: the city.[18]
The city and the people who live in are central in Loach's movies; the way the city is organized, how it is ruled, how people live in…It really stands for the political and social side of the films. Thanks to its description, viewers can see how it affects, directly or not, the protagonists' lives.
There is a very striking sequence at the very beginning of Family Life: [19] a close up on Janice's parents' house gets larger to show the other houses of the street, which are all exactly alike. The sequence ends with an overall view of the neighborhood; it shows parallel rows of houses that are the very copies of Janice's parents', and the rows seem never to end in the fog. This sequence can be taken for something that sums up the whole mood of the film. The streets where Janice has grown up do not let any space for change: everything is astonishingly alike. At the same time, this kind of environment is very confining. It reflects the state of mind of its inhabitants, of Janice's parents in particular: narrow-minded and prejudiced. Thus, the streets of the city can be taken for a metaphor for the mind of those who establish the norms. But as the images get blurred by the fog, so is this way of thinking: blurred by normative behaviors. The sense of uniformisation that gets hold of Janice is unbearable to her, and the only way she finds to escape it is by cutting herself from others. Her incapacity to live in a society embodied by her parents leads her to develop schizophrenia.
In Raining Stones, Bob decides to go from houses to houses to propose his services to clean the drains, to get a little extra money. The priest of his parish, Father Barry, thinks Bob asks him for free, and Bob has no choice but doing it for free. When he goes down the drains, Father Barry flushes the toilets and Bob receives a "shower" of excrements. This sequence is interesting first because it shows Bob going "underground": he goes in a hidden part of the city that no one wants to see even if it is known to be there. He is able to unblock the drains, even if it means being spattered with excrements. Those excrements are products of human bodies, and men are disgusted by them and want to get rid of them; but they can be problematic (block the drains) and remind men that the problem has to be solved. Symbolically, it reminds viewers that what society considers as easily forgivable still exists, even if no one wants to see it: the social criticism Loach does concerns abusive politics, upper classes and enterprises, that want to get rid of lower classes. The sequence is also meaningful in the story itself: what Bob wants to hide from his wife comes back to the surface, with traumatic consequences: the loan shark Tansey comes to see his wife to ask his money back. Even if the story ends rather well, Bob is seen as very anxious at the end of the film. He always looks back to check if the police do not come to arrest him; he feels guilty, afraid and cannot be at ease during his daughter's communion.
More generally, it seems that the description of the urban environment where the main protagonists live is a means to picture their problems and inhibitions. This environment is not just a sphere in which people evolve; it is a living mirror that reflects characters their true fears, but also their needs. This is seen through Loach's way of framing his shots: people are rarely shot in close ups, whereas frames are enlarged to show the surrounding location. Thus, characters are always seen in the middle urban locations, or in their houses. Which means that they are very often seen between walls. Walls are often bare, accentuating their whiteness, and their constraining effects. Depths of field are usually high(except in Cathy Come Home), to signify the relation between characters and their space. The stress put on the body as a manifestation of moods is important as well, because it goes against a general British puritan tradition, inherited from Protestantism, that used to deny the body's behavior to focus on the mind only. According to the puritan thought, bodies were only evidence of people's materialization in the world, but faith and minds only could guide believers.[20]
Consciously or not, Loach stands against this tradition and insists on the importance of bodies: they reveal who people are and where they come from. Space and bodies are thus closely linked. Loach used the zoom figure in his early works such as Cathy Come Home or Up the Junction, as a means to signify the belonging of characters (especially female characters) to a place. The zoom crushes and erases perspectives, and viewers have the impression that there is no space behind characters, that they literally stick to their background, without any perspective of change. This reminds viewers that they are watching a movie, and that they are enabled to get closer to central characters, but from a far place, because they know that it is the camera that enabled them to do it. As such, viewers are made aware that the way they are made to look at things is also responsible for the characters' incapacity to get back to a safer place, as the zooms always take place in outside sequences.[21]


CHAPTER FOUR: Happiness and Socialization  

Every Loach's movie features social relations. Whether this relation is harmful or beneficent, it is at the center of the story. As men are driven to live together, their happiness depends on their capacity to benefit as much as possible from their relation to others. Riff-Raff and My Name Is Joe are certainly the two films that mostly stage and deal with relations between individuals. Both of them show how people cannot make it without help, that is to say, without socializing or meaning something important to others. To convey this, Loach uses two social patterns: the working team on a building site in Riff-Raff, and the football team in My Name Is Joe.
On the building site, workers have to get on well together, otherwise they will not be able to get help if they need some. The microcosm they form has its rules, one of which is being fair. When one of them, Joe, accepts to cash others' cheques because they do not have a bank account in exchange of a commission, he finally does not get the commission that was agreed to be given to him, because the others thought it was too high. Joe can do nothing but say: "You gave me your word", implying they were not honest. Within the group, people give each others lessons and take revenge they cannot take on their boss who exploits them. Still, people stay behind each other. The little space they are given to take their meals is so tiny that one would expect them to burst out. Instead, they take advantage of this to know each other better and create social links. Everything is a pretext to laugh: even the presence of a rat in the kitchen, which is a sad piece of evidence of the insalubrity of the place, becomes something of a comedy. Thus the place where they are endangered becomes a place where they can also find comfort. Little by little, they dare talking of their dreams (one of them wants to go to Africa; Stevie wants to run a little market…). In Riff-Raff, beyond the love story between Stevie and Susan, the true stake is the workers, or how men who are constantly beaten up by abusive bosses can still experience a sense of comradeship and hope to better their lot.
In My Name Is Joe, the pattern is slightly different since people are only gathered in a football team, for leisure. Nonetheless, the activity and the fact of gathering help to forget individual troubles: Liam is seen smiling only when he meets his fellow players. Here, the team is used to back up unemployed young men. Each member is supportive of one another, and viewers have the feeling that Joe's work with Liam is more efficient than Sarah's, the social worker. In this respect, socialization is shown as something that cannot really interact between social classes. Joe and Sarah do not come from the same social background: the set of photographs on Sarah's kitchen's wall clearly sets up her background. She went to University, whereas Joe is the kind of people whose family do not have the money to send children to university. This difference, among others, leads them to react to events in a different way. Joe tends to survive, whereas Sarah earns a rather comfortable living. Thus, they do not have the same point of view when it comes to Liam. Sarah rejects Joe when she learns he worked for McGowan, whereas it seems that it was the only way he could save Liam, and even the only way Liam could be saved. People may have inflexible moral values, but when it comes to someone's life, those values are questioned. The picture Loach does of the kingdom in which money and terror reign is partly pessimistic: one can have values when one has money to live. The bad thing is not what Joe did to save Liam, but why he could not do anything else, and why in the first place Liam had to give money back. Socialization is essential, because characters badly need each other, but the insecurity of the suburbs gets in the relations between people, thus endangering their safety. It certainly has a cost.
The society depicted by Loach is an entity able to work by itself, without the working class: instead of helping people to find a job, it has a system of checking on them so as to make sure they don't work "illegally". Isolated, men find it hard to fight back; some of them say they suffer from feeling useless: Maya confesses her despair to Sam, and tells him that she does not know what her future consists in; Tommy feels terribly ashamed when her daughter gives him money. But the films suggest that collective thinking and action can lead somewhere: the sign in the Bob's father-in-law's office says: "Is there really a Labor alternative?", inviting protagonists, but also viewers, to think it over. In this respect, Loach likes to make movies which have a sense outside of characters' lives. The sign with the political connotation in Raining Stones is very telling of that because it reminds viewers that they are not watching a complete fiction, but a piece of their own world. The documentary side of Loach's fictions-and thanks to which he was first made known- helps to create the interaction effect between what viewers see in the movie and what they know to be their day to day reality. Whereas Hollywood movies do their best to make them forget this reality and confront them with extra-ordinary stories, Ken Loach offers another conception of cinema. His fictions are made to settle viewers in a reality that is theirs: what they watch is meant to enable them to see what surrounds them in a new perspective, more critical. Fictions are meant to create reactions about social realities.
Loach conveys his vision of socialization as a mean to be happy through the relations he films. He seems to be very interested in familial relationships. With Family Life, he shows that, within the family itself, societies have consequences because their norms prevent people from having healthy and unprejudiced relationships. This is obvious with the character of Janice's mother, who is obsessed with what is to be done, or not. Here characters are not confronted with financial troubles; they suffer from a narrow-minded and conservative way of thinking. On the contrary, lack of money is at the center of Raining Stones' plot: it clearly rules and divides Bob and Anne. Their conversations are monopolized by money matters, and there is nothing else. According to Jenny Turner,[22] this kind of nothingness between them is due to Julie Brown(Anne)'s amateurism, and "Loach should have known how to put this right". This is not really relevant, since the whole story is based on the consequences of unemployment on a basic working class family: it affects everyone in the familial cell, and everyone becomes obsessed by the lack of money: the film is about how Bob is going to make it with the communion's dress. In this respect, the case of Bob's friend Tommy (Ricky Tomlinson) is very interesting as well: he doesn't have to buy a communion dress, but this doesn't prevent him from despair because he feels he has lost his dignity, as he cannot afford to refuse the money his daughter gives him-and it becomes even more meaningful when viewers know where this money comes from. Not only do capitalist societies endanger workers, but they also endanger their familial relationships. They make couples more unstable. In this respect, Loach has done many films in which the relationships between men and women are one of the element of the narrative. Thus, his movies offer a wide range of masculine and feminine portraits, that help to convey the vision of a changing society.


[15] Aristotle, Politics, New York : Oxford University Press, 1995:7
[16] Aristotle, Politics, (III, 6).
[17] Aristotle, Politics, p.12
[18] see in Karim Dridi, Citizen Ken Loach, prod Arte, 1995.
[19] Mike Leigh used the same pattern in his 1996 movie Secrets and Lies.
[20] This is why icones are not found in Protestant churches, because prayers do not worship images.
[21] For a complete study of perspectives in Cathy Come Home, see Laurent Roth, Le zoom ou l'entrave des corps, in Images Documentaire, 1997, n.27.
[22] in Sight and Sound, October 1994, p.51