Ken Loach is undeniably a lynchpin of the British film industry, even if more often than not his films are nothing more than simplistic agitprop to push his agenda. He has made some great films like Kes, Hidden Agenda and Land & Freedom, but also his Palme d’or winning I, Daniel Blake which was made for middle class socialist southerners to wallow in the poverty porn of Northerns with its exaggerated storyline. Indicator has released two films from Loach at two distinct periods in his career: 1986’s Fatherland and Carla’s Song, which came out ten years later in 1996.
Fatherland is hands down the worst Loach film I’ve seen. It was made in the mid ’80s and throughout the ’80s he worked almost exclusively in documentary. He only made two feature films due to a lack of funding and serious opposition by Thatcherite elements in the British film and television industry. During this period he faced perhaps his biggest controversy when he was set to direct the play Perdition, an absolutely vile piece of anti-semitic propaganda which has hung over his legacy ever since.
Loach was trying to make a political thriller, and next film would deliver on that promise: Hidden Agenda, which is one of his best and also his most accessible film. However, Loach fails to do so with this tale of Klaus Drittemann (Gerulf Pannach), who is an East German folk singer who defects to the west. He ends up feeling just as uneasy with the capitalist West as he did with the communist East, especially with his record company and PRs ready to exploit his defection both ideologically and financially.
The premise is somewhat intriguing, but Loach has since admitted that the language barrier (the first half of the film is in German) made the film difficult to cobble together, and it suffered because of it. The budget was also smaller than he was used to working with, so some planned scenes has been scrapped and rethought like the finale so it gives off a deeply disjointed experience. It’s also as typical with Loach’s worst films incredibly heavy handed with its politics and becomes increasingly absurd especially the revelations about his father who was also a dissident from GDR. The film also has a frankly bizarre dig at Werner Herzog’s lighting in one scene… Loach, it’s not like your films are known for their breathtaking visuals.
Carla’s Song is a drama that Loach made in 1996, marking his first collaboration with Paul Laverty. Laverty has since worked with Loach as a scriptwriter on almost every film he has done since. It’s about a bus driver in Glasgow, played by Robert Carlyle, who meets a young Nicaraguan refugee named Carla. The film is set in 1987, but Glasgow, the cars and the clothes are all wrong, it has no period detail and that really takes the viewer right out of the film. Loach clearly was like it’s such recent history we don’t need to put much effort into the production design… wrong. When Carla can’t pay for the bus, he helps her escape the ticket inspector, and a relationship develops. But of course she’s suffering from PTSD, and she attempts suicide. He then finds out she also attempted suicide six weeks before. There’s an old boyfriend and she is obviously still in love with him, but eventually George decides that if she’s ever going to get over her emotional problems she will have to go back to Nicaragua, so he accompanies here there.
The film was sent in Nicaragua and even there, you can tell it’s all these ‘90s clothes that have been sent down from the US. The film doesn’t really go anywhere. Scott Glenn plays a character called Bradley who is an aid worker, but you always have your suspicions that he might actually be working for the US, because he knows about too much. There’s not really much done with his character. The film ends on a pretty bland note, it doesn’t go into the war with the Contras but generically war trauma. So while the performances are fine it didn’t do anything for me.
There’s no commentary track on Fatherland, because Ken Loach doesn’t like the film. It has some Loach related documentary work along with it, one with him and one directed by him. The film’s editor supplies a short interview, the trailer, gallery and the shooting script is included. The booklet includes a new essay by Frank Collins, an archival interview with Ken Loach, an extract from Loach on Loach, an overview of contemporary critical responses, new writing on the documentary films.
With Carla’s Song there is a commentary, a documentary about filming in Nicaragua, and multiple additional interview about various aspects of making the film. Also included are 12 minutes of deleted scenes, the original trailer, an image gallery, and a booklet with writing from Laverty and Loach, an overview of contemporary critical responses, and credits.