(director: Ken Loach; screenwriter: Rona Munro; cinematographer: Barry Ackroyd; editor: Jonathan Morris; music: George Fenton; cast: Crissy Rock (Maggie Conlan), Vladimir Vega (Jorge), Sandie Lavelle (Mairead), Mauricic Venegas (Adrian), Ray Winstone (Simon); Runtime: 101; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Sally Hibbin; The Samuel Goldwyn Company; 1994-UK)
“A bleak drama.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Politically motivated British director Ken Loach presents a bleak drama that appears like a docu-drama that is based on a true story of a woman’s uphill fight with Social Services over the care of her children. It was part of leftist Loach’s trilogy of social conscious films with a socialist message that include Riff Raff and Raining Stones, though this is arguably the weakest dramatically; nevertheless, it was the most hard-hitting and haunting of the three and also the least socialist minded.
Its main character is Maggie (Crissy Rock), a Liverpudlian single parent with four children all with different fathers and of varied races. Maggie has a history of getting into bad relationships with louts. Her ex-boyfriend Simon (Ray Winstone) violently abused her causing her to flee; but the social services, anxious about her children after they are called to their attention during a home fire where they are injured, took them away from her and put them in foster care.
Maggie is first seen when she meets the gentle and supportive Jorge (Vega), a political exile from Paraguay, in a pub where she’s happily belting out a ballad. The crude, tempestuous and foul-mouthed Maggie has a child by him and soon moves into his flat, but the child is snatched away by the social workers when the neighbors complain. The social workers label her a walking disaster and an unfit mom living with an illegal immigrant, and refuse to reconsider their decision.
As a social critique of the British system, Loach evokes pity for the outsiders and rages against the impersonal and unfair and bigoted system, as he hammers home his liberal viewpoints with a sledgehammer. But since the mom does appear as an unfit mom and plays into the Tory propaganda about single mothers who breed, it is not always clear what Loach is trying to get at in this particular case. Maggie is an unsympathetic person who does not act with reason and treats the social workers with contempt and volatility, as it is only her reasonable boyfriend Jorge who seems to know how to talk to such authority figures and sanely argue for the return of their child. Perhaps he’s used to dealing with authority figures from his days living under a Latin dictatorship.
The film’s greatest problem is that aside from being emotionally spent, it really isn’t thought provoking. Loach is flailing away at the system, but he could just as well be flailing away at life itself. There is no focus to find out how the needy can be helped.
REVIEWED ON 1/21/2004 GRADE: C