“After an unexpected detour into comedy, the old Ken Loach is back with an angry look at Iraq
Late Palme d’Or contender shines light on murky world of security contractors
By Mark Brown
Cannes welcomed back one of its favoured sons today, and it was Ken Loach as he is best known and loved: gritty, uncompromising and angry. Very, very angry.
The 73-year-old director was a last-minute addition to the competition for this year’s Palme d’Or with his film Route Irish, named after the hazardous road that links the green zone in Baghdad to the airport.
Loach told the Guardian that he and regular collaborator Paul Laverty had been trying to find a way of addressing Iraq for some time. ‘Iraq, to use the old cliche, was the elephant in our sitting room for a long time,’ said Loach.
‘The actual event, the war in Iraq, was so appalling that it takes a long time to see it in perspective.’ He admits that anger was a motivating force – ‘anger on behalf of the people who are not in a position to express it’ – and he is still angry about a lot of things, not least the UK’s recent election.
‘I think we’ve got the real British ruling class back in power,’ he said. ‘Very rich white men with old money. This is the real face of the ruling class – very nuanced, very urbane, very smooth, and we shall see how very ruthless they are.
‘The rightwing victory is going to be sad for a lot of people but one of the saddest aspects of it all, for me, is that some of the New Labourites weren’t cleared out. It looks like the Labour party is going to remain in the grip of the rightwing and that’s the worst news of all.
‘Most of them are war criminals. Those of them who were in the cabinet during the Iraq war are war criminals with collective responsibility for the Iraq war. David Miliband shouldn’t be in office, he should be in prison.’
Loach surprised some last year by releasing a cheerful comedy, Looking for Eric. Route Irish is not a comedy. It is about the effect of war, the effect of guilt and the privatisation of war.
The film tells the story of two best friends, soldiers Fergus and Frankie (played by Mark Womack and the comedian John Bishop), who – lured by £10,000 a month tax-free – become private security contractors. After Frankie’s death in Iraq, Fergus becomes increasingly convinced that it was more than just ‘wrong time, wrong place’ and sets out to find the truth.
More than anything, the film shines a light on the murky world of private contracting firms operating in Iraq and the controversial Order 17, which puts them above Iraqi law.
It could easily be described as a conspiracy thriller, a tag that Loach doesn’t entirely like: ‘I’m always wary of the word thriller, because it suggests a certain kind of film-making and this film isn’t that. But there is a puzzle to unwrap. And in unwrapping the puzzle I hope it gets to the heart of what is happening.’
There are lots of disturbing scenes in the film, not least a waterboarding sequence set in Liverpool. It will shock audiences, but Loach said: ‘My only fear is that we didn’t make it tough enough. This is something that is sanctioned by the US government and tacitly supported by the UK government. One prisoner apparently was waterboarded nearly 200 times. This is what we and our allies do. The only human response is anger and disgust and sometimes you have to show it. You can’t be too refined about it’(…).”