It’s always seemed to me that the film was almost a blow by blow account of George Orwell’s experience, as related in his book ‘Homage to Catalonia’ and yet in all the interviews I’d seen or read with Ken Loach about the film, I’d never heard him mention Orwell in this connection.
Ken’s gentle ambivalence about Orwell gave me my answer and at one point he added that he hardly wanted to have an old Etonian as his central character in the film. He also mentioned that whilst he and his long time screenwriter, Jim Allen, of course knew the Orwell book they had also used other source material. Nonetheless, as other commentators had said, the parallels with ‘Homage’ are fairly obvious.
I guess I get his point, in terms of working class credentials, Orwell doesn’t exactly cut it. Having a young working class, communist from Liverpool (played by Ian Hart) also seemed to Ken more representative of the men that volunteered to go to Spain, rather than the journalist and ‘Tory-Anarchist’ Orwell (a label Orwell gave himself). Loach also touched on what has become known as ‘Orwell’s List’. This was the list of the writers and others whom Orwell drew up, for the Information Research Department of the then (1949) Labour Government, of those he suspected were cryto-communists or ‘fellow travellers’. Ken Loach’s films are and have been the best, most sympathetic and most consistent portrayal of working class people in this country, from any British filmmaker, since the nineteen-sixties, so I guess I shouldn’t be surprised he’s slightly down played the Orwell connection to ‘Land and Freedom’.
We also chatted about the coming election and Corbyn’s prospects. As Ken said later, in his Q & A (I met him before a showing of his film ‘I, Daniel Blake’ in Milton Keynes), this was the first time in many years that the Labour Party had fielded a candidate for PM who might actually change things, an anti-capitalist and not what Ken called a Social Democrat, such as Ed Miliband. At one point he made a joke, by quoting Miliband positively, the joke being that he was actually quoting Ralph Miliband, Ed Miliband’s father, who was a Marxist academic, rather than the former Labour leader.
Indeed, in the photo above, as I was shaking his hand, I said to Ken how I felt a bit awkward holding the ‘I’m voting Labour’ poster simply because the Labour party had betrayed the working classes so often. He agreed and knew what I meant and it’s an obvious and well known fact that the Labour party, under Blair especially, was really right of centre if anything.
For the first time in my lifetime I feel the Labour party has a leader that is actually a Socialist. Even Conservatives like Peter Osborne and Peter Hitchens (the right leaning brother of Christopher) have expressed what a breath of fresh air Corbyn is and say he’s part of a long tradition of Radicals in British politics going back to people like Tom Paine. Check out the youtube 10 minute series of clips ‘What do the Conservatives think of Jeremy Corbyn?’ it’s actually quite interesting.
Before he went on stage Ken asked Ursula White (from Independent Cinema Milton Keynes who along with the Labour Party had organised the event) if her Q & A with him could be brief as he wanted that the audience should get to speak as soon as possible. He also made the suggestion that she should announce that they didn’t have to ask questions as such, that he’d be happy just to hear what they felt about the film. Indeed, waiting in the wings he was also keen to hear and gauge the audience’s reaction to the film at the credits. No worries there, he received a standing ovation when he came on for the Q & A.
It was an unusual night’s work for me and extraordinary. I didn’t ask him any amazing questions or tell him what a brilliant filmmaker I think he is, which is a shame. I didn’t even tell him I was an actor, though it did cross my mind to say, like Yosser Hughes, ‘Gizza job!’. I think whenever you met famous people it’s difficult because you like them (for what they’ve done) yet you don’t know them and after the event you think of lots of things you’d like to have said. And yet, in the end, you know really, they’re just an ordinary human being. What makes you feel connected to them is really an empathy for their work and that’s the important thing. Meeting them in person is just pleasant and good for telling your mates down the pub. I would also add that Ken seems quite a self-contained (rather than guarded) person, comfortable in his own skin you might say, as much as one could be unaffected by and certainly uninterested in ‘fame’.
Getting to work with him would be a dream for an actor but then Ken’s not actually all that interested in actors. He likes to people his films with ‘real people’ because, essentially, they are the people whose stories he wants to tell (along, he would emphasize, with his collaborators).
I thought afterwards I’d like to ask him why he hadn’t made a film about an articulate, well educated, philosophically inclined, working class boy, who had managed to shot himself in his own foot, in terms of a career, many times… but knew immediately that he was interested in making films about people that were really suffering in our society and that a character (yes, me!) with a gentle sense of angst wasn’t really what he was about! I may not be an old Etonian but I also haven’t had to visit a food bank recently.
Ken has always tried to tell stories about those in our society who rarely have their story told, those, often very articulate people, who have their ‘voice’ taken away by the well-established methods of a controlling elite who don’t feel morally guilty about causing poverty or having vast wealth. Conservatives and Social Democrats are very good at defending the rights of Corporations and feel that a high national GDP protects their moral standing, that such ‘stable’ government is by definition good but also seem to think people living on the streets is an accident and not due to such public governmental policy. Vast masses of people suffer with such sloppy, ‘strong’ and mean spirited thinking.
Will companies and corporations ‘Scarper’ due to the raising of Corporation Tax, as David Dimbleby suggested on ‘Question Time’ yesterday? No. They will still want to make money and will still do so, even with Corporation Tax at 26%, which would still be one of the lowest rates in Europe (and is half what it was under Margaret Thatcher!).
Politically speaking, in terms of soundbites at least, Corbyn did become a bit unstuck last night on ‘Question Time’ over Trident and whether he’d press the ‘red button’. Essentially he’s a pacifist (saddled with a few of New Labour’s old policies: keeping Trident being one of them), he doesn’t think blowing people up is right, whether it’s one man in Manchester, with explosives strapped to his chest, killing little girls or via ‘sophisticated’ bombs dropped from ‘peace keeping’ planes and killing little girls (never forget that in today’s wars it is overwhelmingly ordinary citizens who die, statistically speaking it’s much safer to be a solider than a citizen.). He actually wants and believes in multi-lateral disarmament, for most politicians of the May persuasion, saying they believe in multi-lateral disarmament is pure rhetoric and another way of saying they are gonna doing nothing about it, except, somewhat hypocritically, try to prevent other nations getting what they already have.
Saying nuclear weapons keep you safe is like saying ‘War is Peace’. Genocides still occur with them, the Salafist ‘Islamic State’ does, the Imperial Empire building of America, Russian, China etc. is not slowed. There is no ‘peace’ with these things just the added actual ability for someone like the calm, and measured lover of all peoples, Donald Trump, to order that that button is pressed.
In this matter Teresa May (according to Micheal Fallon the Defense Secretary) is with Trump, neither of them would even rule out a ‘first strike’, neither would rule out, that is, killing half the people on the planet to ‘prevent something worse happening’! Who is more likely to cause Armageddon, the Trump-May partnership or Corbyn? Who is more likely to seriously try and get rid of nuclear weapons Teresa or Jeremy? Even if you think the answer to the former is Corbyn, surely you can’t believe May has any intention or even trying to get rid of nuclear weapons? Or put it like this, if Teresa May is prepared to use nuclear weapons, why do you think Kim Jung-Un isn’t?
Just to end, I’d like to say that the best thing about getting to talk to Ken Loach, a filmmaker whom I love for his naturalistic style and politics, is that he is exactly as you would hope, gentle, self-deprecating, generous and primarily interested in listening to what ordinary working class people have to say. He is after all an ‘ordinary’ person himself who happens to have been involved in making some of the best social commentary cinema ever.