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Six Definitive Films: The ultimate beginner's guide to Ken Loach

Ken Loach is still one of the chief practitioners of powerful sociopolitical cinema, known for his fantastic filmography which contains multiple masterpieces. The British auteur’s unique way of handling issues that plague contemporary society has resonated with film fans and audiences all over the world.

Starting out as an actor during the early years of his career, Loach eventually went on to become a director for BBC Television where he created several memorably docudramas about the social structures of power and class struggle before making some of his masterpieces such as Poor Cow and Kes.

While some of his films are routinely voted among the greatest cinematic gems of the last century, he has also produced fantastic works in recent years such as I, Daniel Blake and Sorry We Missed You. According to the latest reports, Loach is currently working on his latest film The Old Oak which will explore life in an old coal-mining village.

Ken Loach’s six definitive films:

Poor Cow (1967)

An adaptation of Nell Dunn’s eponymous novel, this kitchen sink drama is remembered as the first feature film by Loach after his TV projects. It revolves around the tragic life of a woman whose husband abuses her both physically and psychologically.

After he ends up in prison, she struggles to live life on her own while taking care of her son. After falling in love with one of her husband’s criminal friends, she momentarily dreams of a different life only to find herself being confronted by a harsh reality.

Kes (1969)

One of the finest coming-of-age gems in the history of cinema, Kes chronicles the adventures of a young boy who has no refuge at his dysfunctional home or his school. He manages to befriend a kestrel while trying to make sense of the hostile world around him.

Loach once revealed: “I had always enjoyed the comics of Yorkshire and Lancashire. The humour is my humour, really… We walked from his house in Hoyland Common through the woods to the wall in the book, which is where Billy found the kestrel. That was how it came about.”

My Name Is Joe (1998)

Starring Peter Mullan as a recovering alcoholic in Glasgow who is currently employed, My Name Is Joe is a fantastic human story. It follows Joe as he falls in love with a health worker but their connection actually leads to troubling consequences.

The film handles the delicate subjects of substance abuse and social failures with the nuance only Loach is capable of. Not only that, My Name Is Joe is also notable for casting many ex-criminals and ex-addicts in minor parts and as residents of the area.

The Wind That Shakes the Barley (2006)

Focusing on the Irish War of Independence and the Irish Civil War, The Wind That Shakes the Barley is a moving war drama which tells the story of two brothers who decide to put their lives on the line in order to join the fight for independence.

A critical and commercial success, The Wind That Shakes the Barely proved to be a highly engaging piece of historical cinema which managed to garner a global audience. It even ended up winning the prestigious Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival.

I, Daniel Blake (2016)

Probably one of his most celebrated works in recent years, I, Daniel Blake was such a moving film that it was seen as the perfect artistic manifestation of a truly universal experience. It follows the trials and tribulations of a middle-aged man who is harassed by the system.

Although his doctor states that he is unable to work anymore, Daniel enters a Sisyphean battle while struggling to collect on the Employment and Support Allowance that is his fundamental right. Loach manages to construct a hard-hitting critique of the monstrous bureaucracy that enslaves us.

Sorry We Missed You (2019)

Another fantastic and relatively recent effort by Loach, Sorry We Missed You is about a family who have been struggling since the economic crisis of 2008 which debilitated the entire world. Dealing with an ever-present debt, Ricky tries to fight his way out by becoming a self-employed delivery driver.

Although hope exists on the distant horizon, things are complicated by constant problems and strained interpersonal relationships. If anything, Sorry We Missed You shows that Loach is still at the top of his game which is why fans are eagerly waiting for The Old Oak.