For more than four decades, Ken Loach has built a body of work that rivals any living Brit filmmaker for quality, intelligence and social commitment. If – despite international prizes galore – he’s still far less feted in this country than he should be, it’s partly because he’s got little taste for publicity or auteurist pomposity. Movie-making, he always insists, is “a group activity. This is why you can’t say ‘A Film By…’ or ‘a so-and-so film’. If you put that I don’t know how you can look the people you work with in the eye – because they must be thinking, ‘What a tosser’.”
But equally, Loach’s left-wing stance, his concern with social and political justice, his indifference to mega-budget star vehicles, leave a lot of people uneasy - and that’s exactly how it should be. Loach isn’t in the business of making us feel comfortable. He’s concerned with asking awkward questions, and he wants his audience to ask them too.
This superbly presented double boxset – 16 films, plus lavish extras including commentaries, docs and booklets – covers virtually his whole career. From Cathy Come Home (1966), which exposed the obscenity of homelessness (and led directly to the setting up of the charity Shelter), to 2006’s The Wind That Shakes The Barley (an account of Irish history that had sectors of the UK press in a froth of puce-faced indignation), it’s clear Loach has never backed off from controversy.
But if that sounds solemn, think again. Humour abounds in his films – who could forget a stark-naked Ricky Tomlinson confronted by three Arab women in 1991’s Riff-Raff? Lyricism (Kes’ young lad and his kestrel), action (the Spanish Civil War scenes in Land And Freedom) and even eroticism (the mixed-race couple in Ae Fond Kiss) feature too. The poetry of Loach’s vision and his unsentimental sympathy for his characters ensure that his films never deteriorate into arid political tracts. This release does him belated honour – and justice.