Thursday 15 February 2024

Riff-Raff [1991]

 After a difficult time in the 1980s when he struggled to have his works broadcast and distributed, Ken Loach begun blending ferocious political commentaries with narrative storytelling in the 90s, thus making them more palatable. He started with Hidden Agenda, a terrific political conspiracy thriller foregrounded on the Northern Ireland “Troubles”. Riff-Raff, his marvellous next film, set the tone for many of his subsequent anti-establishmentarian dramas centred on regular working-class people at the receiving end of governmental apathy. And, like the preceding movie, it too presented a lashing critique of Thatcher’s damaging reign. The film, interlacing infectious seriocomic tone with bleak social realism and bold left-wing politics, progressed from funny and boisterous to tender and poignant to furious and blazing in its depiction of a crew of construction labourers working without any physical or financial safety nets. They’re hired without background checks – thus enabling them to continue receiving benefits – and in lieu of that they’re forced to work in hazardous conditions, manage their own insurances and fired without any notice. Lending profound authenticity, it was written by Bill Jesse based on his personal experiences, while actors Robert Carlyle – in a smashing turn as Glaswegian jailbird Stevie attempting to walk the straight and narrow path – and Ricky Tomlinson – former union activist who gave a memorably gregarious turn while also serving as the film’s political conscience – too had experiences in this line. Ironically, the derelict North London hospital where work is shown happening to convert it into luxury apartments, anticipated what actually transpired. The raucous camaraderie and stirring class solidarity between the culturally diverse blue-collar workers was counterpointed with Stevie’s heartbreaking romance with fragile girl-woman and wannabe singer Susan (Emer McCourt).

Director: Ken Loach

Genre: Drama/Comedy/Social Drama/Romance

Language: English

Country: UK

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