'Versus: The Life and Films of Ken Loach': Review

By Halligan, Fionnuala | Screen International, June 3, 2016 | Go to article overview

'Versus: The Life and Films of Ken Loach': Review


Halligan, Fionnuala, Screen International


Dir. Louise Osmond. UK, 2016, 93 mins.

I, Daniel Blake may have won the Palme D'Or last month, but Versus: The Life And Films Of Ken Loach should be the immediate beneficiary. Without that second Palme, a film about the half-century career of its director Ken Loach, shot around the filming of I, Daniel Blake, might easily have been perceived as a classy DVD extra. Now, it seems like a timely, if not golden, opportunity to examine Loach afresh, and Louise Osmond's 93-minute film doesn't disappoint.

Versus is as watchable for those who have never seen a Ken Loach film as it is informative for those who think they know him. Appropriately, given the director's left-leaning politics, part of its theatrical release in the UK through the innovative Dogwoof is a "pay what you can" afternoon on Sunday June 5. Although Versus will have an obvious home on TV including part-backer the BBC - which once dropped him for being too political - it has the scope for the big screen too, and should become an international festival favourite.

To their credit, Osmond and Loach's long-time producer Rebecca O'Brien aren't on a mission here to present Ken Loach as a twinkly-eyed National Treasure. Instead, he's carefully placed in context - of his life, the times, some of his films, his dogged personality. The Wednesday plays he directed for the BBC - such as 1965's Up The Junction - were watched by audiences of between 18-20 million, unheard-of figures today in the UK, and viewing numbers he can only dream of now.

But from the very beginning of his career as a director, particularly with 1966's story of homelessness Cathy Come Home, Ken Loach's work has inflamed sensitivities. Watching this documentary, it can't but be noted with sadness that Cathy's story informs I, Daniel Blake, or that too little has changed, including the potential reaction to Blake when it releases in the UK later this year. Such controversy can overshadow his artistic achievements at home - only nine directors have won two Palme D'Ors.

Versus kicks offwith inter-titles which suggest that Loach's 2014 retirement - he will turn 80 on June 17 - was prompted by the return to power of the UK's Tory party, although everyone in this film seems to realise that Ken will never retire, including himself. A picture of David and Samantha Cameron is accompanied by the slight Loach - a "man who looks like a bank clerk" - saying the word "bastards". …

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