Loach’s films about poverty in modern Britain are the most powerful of his career. Now in his eighties, the director is still taking the fight to anyone he sees as the enemyby Wendy Ide / November 13, 2019 / Leave a comment
When Ken Loach and his regular screenwriter Paul Laverty were researching I, Daniel Blake, their 2016 film about a punitive unemployment benefits system, they noticed something alarming. The people visiting food banks were by no means all without jobs. A substantial number were trapped in zero-hours contracts and relied on charity to feed themselves and their families. It soon became clear to Loach and Laverty that there was a film to be made about the working poor. Their new film Sorry We Missed You, also set in Newcastle upon Tyne, is an archetypal Loach/Laverty examination of the life of a working-class family stuck on the treadmill of relentless graft, with debts accruing.
It was, Loach tells me when I meet him in the unassuming Soho offices of his production company, conceived as a companion piece to I, Daniel Blake, both formally and thematically. “That’s one of the reasons we went back to Newcastle, apart from it’s a great place to work. The idea was to tell a story in the same way: as economically, as simply. It’s a kind of spare way of filming so that there’s nothing surplus. But the aim is that it should be very simple so that the complexity of the relationships and the nuances of the parent, child, sibling [interactions]—there’s space for that not to be over simplified.”
His approach works. These films are two of the finest of his career. I, Daniel Blake won the Palme d’Or in Cannes, the second time that Loach has won the top prize at the festival (the first was for the harrowing The Wind that Shakes the Barley, a 2006 work about a family tearing itself apart during the Irish war of independence). Sorry We Missed You also premiered in competition in Cannes to glowing reviews. In both recent films, the economy of approach magnifies the power of key moments: the food bank scene in I, Daniel Blake, where a desperately hungry single mother eats beans from a can using her fingers, is matched in impact by a devastating hospital scene in Sorry We Missed You, in which a mild-mannered wife launches into an expletive-heavy tirade on the phone to the manager who has worked her husband to breaking point. These are blunt, brutally effective moments designed to give the audience pause.