The life of acclaimed director Ken Loach told on the big screen in Versus

KEN Loach said he was retiring from film-making in 2014 after 50 years but when the Tories swept to power again last year he decided to make one final film.

This is an utterly absorbing documentary about the man referred to as “the most leftwing subversive director” that Britain has ever seen, a film-maker who “speaks for the voiceless” and – by Loach himself – as “the antique director”.

Loach will turn 80 in a couple of weeks and he may or may not be happy to hang up his clapperboard for good now that the film he came out of retirement to make – I, Daniel Blake – has won the Palme d’Or at Cannes.

In Louise Osmond’s documentary we get to see him at work behind the scenes of that film – dubbed “a moving welfare state polemic” – last year and get a real insight into how he casts and shoots.

Cillian Murphy worked for Loach on The Wind That Shakes The Barley (2006), which told the story of an IRA flying column during the Irish war of independence and which also won the Palme d’Or.

Murphy says that “it’s more about you as a person” when you get the nod to work with Loach.

“It fundamentally changed how I approach acting; it becomes all about emotion and not intellect.”

Gabriel Byrne offers up some priceless insights into the director, while we also hear from Loach's family, Ricky Tomlinson, screenwriter Paul Laverty, Sheila Hancock and Alan Parker.

We hear about the bilious rubbish written about Loach in the British rightwing press in response to both Barley and his Troubles film Hidden Agenda (generally written by people who hadn’t taken the time to watch the films). One headline described Hidden Agenda as “the IRA entry at Cannes” in 1990.

The story goes back to Loach’s early dramas for the BBC in the mid-60s. The shocking realism in the likes of Cathy Come Home was echoed again in his 1969 feature Kes.

Loach, we hear, wanted “to make films about how the world is actually run” – so it’s not a surprise that he faced opposition from those in positions of power.

The film also looks at the period in the 80s when Loach found it impossible to get films made and – a particular low point for him – made TV commercials so that his family didn’t have to move house.

One voiceover informs us that Warwickshire-raised Loach is “a contradiction, like all of us” and we hear how his father was “a working class Tory”.

There is also personal tragedy – he and his wife lost their five-year-old son following a car crash.

Versus does a fantastic job of telling Loach’s life story; it’s informative, funny and powerful – like the man himself.

Rating: Four stars

Versus opens at QFT Belfast today and runs until Thursday June 9. Tickets for the 4.40pm screening this Sunday will be issued on a “pay what you can” basis, first-come, first-served, cash only (queensfilmtheatre.com).


Ken Loach, Paul Laverty, Gabriel Byrne, Cillian Murphy, Ricky Tomlinson, Melvyn Bragg, Sheila Hancock, Lesley Loach, Alan Parker. Director: Louise Osmond