A Share of the Spoils
By Julien Allen
Staying In is a weekly Reverse Shot series that focuses on films our writers have viewed at home through all forms of digital distribution, from cable on demand to downloads to instant streaming. With Staying In, we hope to expand our ideas on film watching and criticism by getting out of our comfort zone—the theater.
Dir. Ken Loach, 2010, U.K.
viewed on Sky Player
The slight shiver of excitement I habitually feel when sitting down to watch a new Ken Loach film is amplified on this occasion by a simple coincidence of dates: I am about to view Route Irish at home on my laptop, on the same day that it’s released in cinemas across the UK. I am not admitting a felony in the pages of Reverse Shot; the reality is regrettably far worse—I have paid for my “ticket,” and despite Route Irish being almost the furthest thing imaginable from a Fox film, most of my money has gone to Rupert Murdoch, majority owner of the satellite subscription channel Sky Movies.
Loach’s status as a popular filmmaker here in the U.K. is roughly akin to that of Woody Allen in the U.S. (Anyone thinking that’s too ludicrous a comparison should watch Loach’s Looking for Eric in a double bill with Play it Again, Sam). Despite some grudging recognition for masterpieces he made forty years ago (Kes and Cathy Come Home) and dutiful respect for his longevity and his unwavering personal style, he’s not particularly cherished, and only continental Europeans actually make any kind of a fuss when a Loach film comes out. The guy’s something of a national hero—albeit in France, where he is routinely compared, as a realist filmmaker, to the saintly Maurice Pialat, perhaps mostly due to his absolute rejection of literary artifice in his portrayal of human exchanges. (This differentiates Loach from the deliberately theatrical dialogue approach of Mike Leigh, with whom he is readily and clumsily associated in the UK). So while Route Irish has a 134-screen French general release, it is opening in a miserable twenty screens across the UK, seven of which are in London, only one each in Sheffield, Manchester, and Liverpool (where the film is set, for goodness’s sake) and none at all in Birmingham, Leeds, or Bradford. It appears that this most decorated of festival directors (he won two Prix du jury at Cannes as well as the Palme d’or for The Wind That Shakes the Barley, less than five years ago), this remorseless champion of the British working man and implacable scourge of the corporatist establishment, is reduced to taking the Murdoch dollar to get his films seen in Britain at all. Continue reading.