Three Films by Ken Loach [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray B - United Kingdom - British Film Institute
Review written by and copyright: James-Masaki Ryan (24th September 2017).
The Film

“Three Films by Ken Loach”


“Riff Raff” (1991)

“Stevie”(played by Robert Carlyle) comes to London in search of work and a place to a live. A construction site is hiring and it is a no-questions asked under the table type of deal where the workers show up and get paid a lower than fair amount. From illegal immigrants to former criminals, the group of hard pressed and hard knocked men are there for each other to make ends meet, including helping each other squat in open buildings for a place to live. Stevie encounters Susan (played by Emer McCourt), an amateur singer who has a broken soul but does not have the certain chops for singing well. The two hit off a relationship but things start going sour in Stevie’s life both personally and professionally.

“Raining Stones” (1993)

Bob (played by Bruce Jones) and Tommy (played by Ricky Tomlinson) are trying to make ends meet but have a difficult time finding stable work to keep bread on their respective families’ tables. Bob’s van getting stolen makes things worse for finding work and in addition to that the need to provide a dress for his daughter’s communion is highly unaffordable for his struggling family. Taking on odd jobs gets him nowhere and the only way to get the money quick is through a loan shark…

“Ladybird Ladybird” (1994)

Maggie (played by Crissy Rock) meets Paraguayan Jorge (played by Vladimir Vega) at a bar during karaoke where he is immediately smitten by her. She is flattered and the evening of nice conversation starts to turn bleak when Maggie opens up about her past to him. She is the mother of four children but is not allowed to see them due to child services taking them away. She has been in abusive relationships one after the other, had witnessed abuse her father put her mother, and being sexually abused as a child. She is scared to have another relationship even though Jorge assures her that he is not a violent person and would care for her honestly and deeply. While their relationship blossoms, her court appearances and countless denials to see her own children take a toll on her personally, as well as Jorge’s visa expiring making him an illegal alien and unable to work in legal manners…

For decades Ken Loach has been making films about life in Britain from the eyes of the working class. Social issues, class struggle, political ideals were the main issues but that also meant his works would be controversial and harder to find audiences. His second feature film “Kes” (1969) won massive acclaim throughout the world and continues to inspire to this day, but his subsequent work for the next two decades on television and cinema were sparsely distributed and received little notice. 1990’s “Hidden Agenda” received very high acclaim in Europe and in America and was even awarded the Grand Jury Prize at Cannes, but in the UK it was barely distributed as it was seen as an “IRA movie” - a similar fate would happen to Neil Jordan’s film “The Crying Game” a few years later. 1991’s “Riff Raff” also fell through the cracks in British distribution only playing to a few arthouse theaters, even though it won the FIPRESCI Prize at Cannes, won the European Film of the Year at the European Film Awards, and nominated for many more. Distributors were not sure how to market a film dealing with socialist views, anti-Thatcherism, homelessness, undocumented workers, drug abuse, and being a Ken Loach film. 1993’s “Raining Stones” and 1994’s “Ladybird Ladybird” were also not widely distributed theatrically, although both were as well highly acclaimed by critics around the world. “Raining Stones” won the Grand Jury Prize at Cannes, Best Foreign Film at the César Awards, Best Foreign Film at the French Syndicate of Cinema Critics, Best Film and Best Screenplay at the Evening Standard British Film Awards, and many more nominations and accolades. “Ladybird Ladybird” was especially praised for the performance of lead actress Crissy Rock who received Best Actress at the Berlin International Film Festival, Chicago International Film Festival, London Critics Circle Film Awards, and the Sant Jordi Awards.

All three films have their similarities yet have distinctive voices of their own. "Riff Raff" and "Ladybird Ladybird" both have singing muses that capture the heart of a sincere man. "Riff Raff" and "Raining Stones" have men trying to get by and make a living through desperate means. "Raining Stones" and "Ladybird Ladybird" have instances of young children witnessing their mothers subjected to physical abuse.

“Riff Raff” was written by Bill Jesse, a first time writer and real life construction worker taking cues from his own experience for the story. The story takes stabs at the Margaret Thatcher regime and how the lower and middle classes suffered from conservative attitudes leaving the poor and underprivileged behind while showing the comrades and friendships of the ragtag band of construction workers who all came from differing unfulfilled backgrounds. Many of the workers in the story - or possibly all of them do not use their real names. The main character of Stevie's real name is Patrick, but goes by a different name to separate himself from his ex-convict past. Ironically the workers are there to construct a highrise luxury apartment building - something they can never afford themselves. One of the more interesting aspects of the film is the relationship of Stevie and Susan. An amateur singer, she doesn't have the pipes for singing as seen in the pub where she gets booed off stage, but Stevie sees in her a broken soul - one that he can relate to and falls in love with. Their story together is very sincere and loving yet things turn difficult as time goes on. Things seem very serious in drama yet the film is filled with comedic moments. There are many scenes of the workers joking around, there is the unforgettable scene of Larry taking a bath and being caught by the real estate agent and a group of prospective female clients in hijabs. This would be the first time Ricky Tomlinson's ass would appear on screen in a film but not the last. Equal amounts of comedy and drama are presented in the film and it works. Robert Carlyle is excellent as Stevie/Patrick and gives a face that is sympathetic even with his questionable background. Sadly for screenwriter Bill Jesse he would not live to see the finished film as he died during production at the age of 48.

"Raining Stones" effectively starts as a comedy. Two grown men running around on a moor trying to catch a sheep is filled with pratfalls and cursing. Bob getting covered in waste as he is trying to fix the drains of a local church is straight out of a cartoon, but with much more brown colored smearing shown. Ricky Tomlinson would again show his ass on screen in a drunken tirade. But things take a sharp left turn around the halfway point when Bob's family is physically threatened by the loan shark. It doesn't come as a shock as the audience is shown what may happen if the locals don't pay up, but the tonal shift from the middle point seems too drastic. Bob's child witnessing men breaking into their home, abusing their mother who is crying on the floor, hearing heavy language directed at them and having things stolen right in front of them are heavily real and extremely disturbing to see. There is precedent for Bob's revenge, but it is slightly extreme. "Raining Stones" is an excellent film, yet it sometimes does not have an overall tone to feel consistent.

Ken Loach has stated that the couple in "Ladybird Ladybird" is based on a true story of a woman who had her children taken by social services and her subsequent children also being taken away just after birth due to her past. There are many issues brought up by the happenings in the story. Maggie was sexually abused as a child, witnessed her mother being abused by her father, and the traumatic incidents shaped her into the broken soul that she had become. The story does in fact show the reasons of Maggie's children being taken away due to negligence and her abusive boyfriend (played by Ray Winstone. What is almost unfathomable and cruel is when child services comes to her home after the birth of her and Jorge's child and takes the baby away due to court order. There is argument brought up by Maggie that child services are supposed to give children better lives and opportunities, but what is done for the parents that are split from their children? She also argues that child services did nothing for her as a child when she experienced abuse and she is in her adult life being punished for actions that were not in her control. Critics and audiences have argued that the film shows the plight of the couple having their children taken away but very little in terms of the child services workers and how the cases were handled fairly or not. The film certainly shows their actions unfavorably, yet Loach has acknowledged that child care services are a necessity to protect children from broken and abusive households. Some may also argue the point of the actions of Maggie and Jorge. Why do they keep having children knowing that child services would take the kids away immediately? The first time was a surprise but the second and third? In addition the two were barely able to support themselves yet having children one after the other. The poor having more children than they can provide for is another major issue affecting not only the UK but many other countries worldwide, and the government not being able to support the needy children to the fullest. Comedian Crissy Rock in her screen debut as Maggie is a tour de force performance, very different from her known characters prior. Yet Loach was able to bring a harsh sincerity and empathetic performance from a quite unlikable character. "Ladybird Ladybird" is an angering film to watch and extremely effective to start dialogue and discussion about critical issues of child services and abuse.

Loach's early 1990s efforts are some of his most hard hitting and best films of his career. He has not slowed down over time and he has become one of nine filmmakers in history to receive the Palme d'or at the Cannes Film Festival, with "The Wind That Shakes the Barley" (2006) and "I, Daniel Blake" (2016). His career still continues to attract new viewers, with "I, Daniel Blake" becoming his most financially successful and one of his most talked about films. Not a feat that many other 80 year old filmmakers can say.

Note this is a region B Blu-ray set which can only be played back on region B or region free Blu-ray players

Video

The BFI presents “Riff Raff” in 1080p in the AVC MPEG-4 codec, in the 1.37:1 aspect ratio. As this was a theatrical film the projected aspect ratio was most likely in 1.66:1, but this transfer presents the unmatted version. The high definition transfer is not the best, as it has some issues with faded colors and lacking clean depth. There are minor instances of damage so the image has been cleaned, but due to the source material and most likely the conditions it just doesn’t have a very pleasing result.

The film is uncut with a runtime of 95:59.

The BFI presents “Raining Stones” in 1080p in the AVC MPEG-4 codec, in the 1.66:1 aspect ratio. Restored in high definition, the colors are bright, dark tones look fine, and the image is very clear with detail. There is very little damage in the frame while film grain is left intact.

The film is uncut with a runtime of 90:38

The BFI presents “Ladybird Ladybird” in 1080p in the AVC MPEG-4 codec, in the 1.66:1 aspect ratio. The film was scanned from the original 16mm A+B negatives by Pinewood Postproduction at 2K with digital restoration applied. It is not the most colorful film with blues and browns but the colors look very good as well as the sharpness of the picture. There are no major issues of damage to the image.

The film is uncut with a runtime of 102:03

Audio

English LPCM 2.0 mono (“Riff Raff”)
English LPCM 2.0 stereo (“Raining Stones” / “Ladybird Ladybird”)

All three films are given a lossless 2.0 channel soundtrack, “Riff Raff” having the original mono track and “Raining Stones” / “Ladybird Ladybird” receiving the original stereo tracks. The tracks do have their fidelity issues with certain scenes being harder to understand most likely due to the conditions of the original tracks. It is minor and should not distract from the bigger picture. There are no issues of hisses pops or cracked on any of the audio tracks.

There are optional English HoH subtitles for the main features in a white font. All are well timed and easy to read. It also should be noted that the very few lines of Spanish dialogue in “Ladybird Ladybird” also are subtitled in the English track, but rather than translations they are Spanish captions written in Spanish.

Extras

The BFI presents “Three Films by Ken Loach” in three separate Blu-ray discs, with each film having their own disc with its own extras.

DISC ONE “Riff Raff”

Stills Gallery
26 color stills taken from on the set of the production are presented, and the colors are especially gorgeous on these photos.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4

Ken Loach: The Guardian Lecture at the National Film Theatre with Derek Malcolm (73:22)
In this on stage video interview from 1992, Loach talks about a variety of topics including financing issues with British films, on the productions of many of his past works including the seminal “Kes”, the near-none distribution of his then-recent films “Hidden Agenda” and “Riff Raff” in his home country, as well as taking audience questions. Malcolm also mentions that it’s a shame that British productions such as “Life Is Sweet”, “Long Day Closes”, and “Howards End” received high praise and commercial success in many countries yet played in very few cinemas in the UK and that it needs to “fucking” change receiving unanimous applause. This interview was also included on the Signal One Entertainment Blu-ray release of “Hidden Agenda”.
in 1080p (upscaled) AVC MPEG-4, in 1.33:1, in English LPCM 2.0 with no subtitles

Original Trailer (2:20)
“A new type of British comedy” as it is marketed, though is it? The picture is very faded with washed out colors and is very grainy.
in 1080p (upscaled) AVC MPEG-4, in 1.33:1, in English LPCM 2.0 with no subtitles


DISC TWO “Raining Stones”

Stills Gallery
More than 30 stills from the production set are presented in high definition.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4

"Carry on Ken" documentary (48:54)
This 2006 retrospective documentary on the director features interviews with various cast and crew from his productions, clips of his films plus some interview footage of the man himself. Actors Robert Carlyle, Ricky Tomlinson, Peter Mullan, Brian Cox, editor Jonathan Morris, cinematographer Barry Ackroyd, and many more are interviewed.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.78:1, in English LPCM 2.0 with no subtitles

Original Trailer (2:07)
A grainy trailer with some colors slightly faded is presented here.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.78:1, in English LPCM 2.0 with no subtitles


DISC THREE “Ladybird Ladybird”

Stills Gallery
44 stills from the production of the film are presented in HD.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4

"Face to Face: Jeremy Isaacs Talks to Ken Loach" documentary (40:07)
In this one on one interview from 1994. Loach gives a personal and career overview with much of the discussion pertaining to his latest film at the time, "Ladybird Ladybird". He talks about his early childhood, his start in television work and feature films, and more. One topic he decides to not talk about is the death of his five year old son in a car accident. The booklet lists the date of the interview from 1992, but this is clearly from the later listed “MCMXCIV” (1994) as the two discuss the 1994 production of “Ladybird Ladybird”.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.33:1, in English LPCM 2.0 with no subtitles

Original Trailer (2:15)
A grainy trailer is offered here. The sound is is a bit offcenter and the picture is slightly cut off on the sides so Ken Loach's name reads "Ken Loac" on the final title card.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.33:1, in English LPCM 2.0 with no subtitles

Booklet
A 32 page booklet is included in the set, with essays, photos, credits, and other information. The first essay is "Revolution, My Arse" by David Archibald, senior lecturer in Film and Television Studies a the University of Glasgow, who gives an overview on the three films. There are contemporary reviews for all three films reprinted, the first two written by Derek Malcolm and the third by Philip French. There are special features information, credits for all three films, notes on the transfers and acknowledgements.

Overall

"Three Films by Ken Loach" collects a great selection of successive Loach directed films in one of his best periods. Not the most commercial yet full of comedy, drama, and controversy, the three films still stand as powerful works from a powerful filmmaker. The BFI's set gives good transfers on the films and very informative extras. Very recommended.

The Film: B Video: A- Audio: A- Extras: A Overall: A-

 


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