Arriving on DVD in the wake of its Channel 4 screening last month, Ken Loach’s latest sees the Kes director back on Riff-Raff territory with a telling critique of the everyday exploitation of migrant labour in today’s Britain. Fans of the veteran leftie’s work will spot parallels with 2000’s Bread And Roses. Ingeniously, however, Loach and regular writing collaborator Paul Laverty this time muddy the waters by making their instrument of oppression a vivacious single mother who, on another day, might easily be one of the filmmaker’s plucky working-class heroines.
After being sexually harassed at the recruitment agency where she works, Angie (Kierston Wareing) decides to set up her own outfit with pliable best friend Rose ( Juliet Ellis). With a steady stream of immigrants and clients desperate for cheap labour, the pair are soon raking it in – a lucrative state of affairs that quickly turns Angie from generous employer to ruthless gang-mistress in all but name. One scene finds the couple using two of their better-looking casuals for casual sex; another sees Angie call the cops to clear a caravan site she needs to house a fresh influx of illegals. Capitalism, it seems, makes monsters of us all.
Though not without Loach’s trademark sermonising and a climax that descends too readily into hackneyed melodrama, It’s A Free World grips and appals in equal measure, thanks to its keenly observed detail and naturalistic performances.