Watching: Two Great Films by Ken Loach

Classics of British «kitchen sink» drama.

By The Watching Team

Dear Watchers,

We know your watching time is limited. And the amount of things available to watch … is not. Looking for a movie? Nearly any movie ever made? It’s probably streaming somewhere. That’s a lot of movies.

Below, we’re suggesting two of them, the latest of our weekly double-feature recommendations. We think the movies will pair well — with each other and with you.

Your weekly double feature: Ken Loach

Crissy Rock in a scene from the 1994 Ken Loach film “Ladybird, Ladybird.”Channel Four Films, via Amazon Prime Video

‘Ladybird, Ladybird’ and ‘Riff-Raff’

For over a half century, the British director Ken Loach has been picking at tears in the social fabric, making “kitchen sink” dramas about working-class people and the systems that hold them in poverty and distress. His resurgence in the early 1990s doubled as an introduction for most American art-house viewers, who experienced a level of realism and political engagement that was uncommon in homegrown independent films.


Loach cast Crissy Rock, a stand-up comedian, as the lead in his shattering 1994 drama “Ladybird, Ladybird,” but a laugh riot it is most assuredly not. Leaving Amazon Prime Video at the end of March, the film opens at a karaoke bar, where Maggie Conlan (Rock) meets Jorge (Vladimir Vega), a Paraguayan immigrant who treats her with a tenderness that we soon learn is rare in her relationships with men. As their relationship develops, Loach flashes back to the domestic violence in Maggie’s childhood and the chaos of her adult life, which resulted in four children with different men and frequent intrusions from social services. Maggie’s mistakes are weighed against a genuine love for her “lost children,” and Loach’s use of flashbacks has the effect of trapping her in a vicious cycle.

And yet not all Loach films are so determinedly bleak. His wonderful 1991 slice-of-life “Riff-Raff” is full of gallows humor, aligning itself with a construction crew that is working to convert an old hospital into luxury apartments. Still five years away from his breakthrough in “Trainspotting,” Robert Carlyle stars as a Glaswegian ex-con trying to set up a new life in London. His workmates set him in up in a squatter’s flat on the first day, a sign of both their working-class solidarity and the hand-to-mouth improvisation of their existence. “Riff-Raff” is loaded with salty, slangy dialogue, so thickly accented that it was originally released with English subtitles. Watchers are advised to consider that option at home, too. SCOTT TOBIAS

Stream “Ladybird, Ladybird” on Amazon Prime Video.

Stream “Riff-Raff” on Amazon Prime Video.


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