Throughout a career that has spanned almost half a century, Ken Loach has won a small but dedicated band of enthusiasts, who relish his pull-no-punches realism and dedication to telling the stories of people who are misleadingly labelled ‘ordinary’. Though his latest film has so far only got a one day release at certain Picturehouse venues, but it is well worth tuning into Channel 4 on Monday 24th September to see it. Because he and writing partner Paul Laverty have only gone and done it again.
When we meet Angie (Kierston Wareing), she is just about to get sacked from her job in a Polish recruitment agency for throwing a glass of water in the face of a sleazy boss. Sick of being treated like shit as a temp worker, and concerned for the future of her son (Joe Siffleet), she decides to set up her own business finding work for migrant labourers from the back of a London pub. With her flatmate (Juliet Ellis) by her side, Angie sets off on a corporate learning curve far steeper than the one taken by well-heeled contestants on The Apprentice. So just how far will the pair go to make some money and gain some self-respect? As it turns out, a long, long way…
Loach and Laverty’s great strength as filmmakers is undoubtedly character development. In each of their films, the protagonists end up being very different people from how they begin, and yet this is almost always done seamlessly and believably. The reason for this is that whenever someone has to make a choice in one of their films, they inevitably follow what seems to be in their material interests. Their perspective isn’t a cynical one; they just call it as they see it. Where most these days strive for the literally ‘sensational’ and ‘unbelievable’, Loach and Laverty pride themselves in achieving just the opposite.
The title is of course an ironic one. Politicians tell us we are ‘free’ every day, even waging wars in the name of ‘liberty’, but the only true freedom in our society seems to be that of money to move around the world, reducing every human relationship to cold cash calculation. As Loach has pointed out in interviews for the film, the ‘flexible’ labour market just means workers globally must bend over backwards to satisfy the needs of profit-hungry corporations. Business has its cake and eats it, because in the absence of any alternative, the right finds it easy to divide and therefore conquer workers. This isn’t one of their inspiring pictures by any means (unlike say Bread and Roses or Land and Freedom), but Loach and Laverty have no duty to put a smile on our faces. In their eyes, diagnosis of the disease is the first step towards curing it.