This is the first of a pair of films about and by Ken Loach, in celebration of his eightieth birthday this year.
Versus is a funny, provocative and revealing account of the life and career of one of Britain’s foremost filmmakers, Ken Loach, as he looks back at over fifty years of filmmaking. Its release is timely, given that Loach won his second Palme D’Or at Cannes this year for I, Daniel Blake, for which we will have to wait.
Loach famously likes to shoot his films chronologically in order to elicit ‘truthful’ responses from his actors. Faced with a considerable body of work and eight decades of biography, director Louise Osmond prefers temporal skips; we’ve already covered Loach’s Wednesday Plays for the BBC when we skip back to Oxford, where the son of a factory foreman encounters ‘the youths who expected to rule the world, and who did’. Later, when we’re deep into Loach’s lean years – his documentaries were often pulled from TV schedules – Versus brings us back to the time Loach, then a young actor, was Kenneth Williams’ understudy.
Produced by Loach and Rebecca O’Brien’s Sixteen Films for the BFI and the BBC, Versus makes no claims for impartiality. It is unusually candid for a tribute to an artist, however. Loach frankly describes the 1971 car crash that killed his grandmother-in-law and his and his wife Lesley’s second son, five-year-old Nicholas, and of his permanent loss of happiness. Obliged to make commercials when he couldn’t get films financed, Loach feels he acted unethically. There’s no flinching from the truth here.
Louise Osmond’s warm, engaging portrait of the near 80-year-old ends with the characteristically soft-spoken film-maker murmuring the word ‘bastards’, with a little smile. This is entirely in keeping with what his many collaborators have been telling us for an hour-and-a-half. “He doesn’t seem to be a danger to anyone” says Tony Garnett, Loach’s producer for some 13 years, “he’d seem at home at a vicar’s tea party and yet, there he is, probably the most subversive director this country has ever had.”
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Venue: William Loveless Hall