Anyone who was fortunate enough to secure a ticket for Tuesday 14 March at Live Theatre in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, was privileged to enjoy a unique experience; Ken Loach was in conversation with the North of Tyne Mayor, Jamie Driscoll.
Kenneth Charles Loach was born in Nuneaton on 17 June 1936 and, after attending grammar school, studied law at Oxford. After university, he spent two years in the Royal Air Force and then joined a repertory company, touring as an actor. In 1963, he joined the BBC as a trainee TV director. His first assignment was a 30-minute drama written by Roger Smith with whom he worked into the '90s. Docudramas, like Up The Junction and Cathy Come Home established his reputation for social-issue drama. Others like Tony Garnett, who produced Kes, and Chris Menges, cinematographer, were instrumental in helping Loach find his style and naturalistic approach.
He did more TV documentaries in the '80s, interviews about unions, even directing a Tennent’s lager advert for the money. There were more theatrical feature films in the '90s with Ladybird Ladybird, starring Ray Winstone and a stand-up comedienne, Crissy Rock, in the lead. Rock won best actress at 1994 Chicago International Film Festival and Silver Bear for best actress at the 44th Berlin International Film Festival. The film also was nominated at the Best Foreign Film Festival at the 10th Independent Spirit Awards. Through the 2000s, he mixed political dramas with examinations of personal relationships, winning Palme d’Or in 2006 at Cannes Film Festival for The Wind That Shakes The Barley.
He retired in 2014 aged 78 but soon restarted, making I Daniel Blake, winning him another Palme d’Or in 2016. I Daniel Blake was also awarded Outstanding British Film in 2017. It has now been redrafted to a stage play to première at Northern Stage in with ‘actors’ playing the parts. Although starting his career as an actor, he prefers to cast ‘non’ actors in parts, ordinary people, as he feels they react more naturally to a situation and not ‘act’ it, using a lot of improvisation. Many actors are naturally reserved and can relax playing a part as they are not being themselves, one of the hardest things to so as an actor.
He declined an OBE in 1977 for his services to film in 1977, saying “I turned down the OBE because it's not a club you want to join when you look at the villains who've got it.” He was made a Fellow of the British Film Institute in recognition of his outstanding contribution to film and television culture. One of his five children, Nicholas, tragically died in a car accident aged six; two of them followed in his footpaths: Jim Loach a director and Emma Loach a documentary filmmaker.
Certainly foremost in the UK he is a political filmmaker, also evident in his comments, "it’s a democratic duty to criticise the government,” “I’ve always tried to capture the truth at the moment,” "a movie isn’t a political movement, a party or even an article. It’s just a film. At best it can add its voice to public outrage.”
Loach certainly cannot be accused of not voicing his opinions in his work. Creative work may not change the world but it certainly can draw attention to its situation. On his favourite film, he replied, “films are like your children, you can’t have a favourite,” and one feels that he treats all his work like that, deeply, personally and like his baby.
Even near the age of 87, you can be sure he undoubtedly has more to give.