‘Hope isn’t just wishful thinking’—an interview with Ken Loach

Director Ken Loach and writer Paul Laverty
Director Ken Loach and writer Paul Laverty

Director Ken Loach and writer Paul Laverty speak to Nick Grant about their new film ‘The Old Oak’

In their 15th film together director Ken Loach and writer Paul Laverty confront a subject that could hardly be more relevant. They thrust us into the dramatic bitterness felt by both an abandoned British community and weary refugees. Set in north east England, audiences watch a group of Syrians arriving in a derelict former mining area.

Right from the start we find a Newcastle United football-shirted bloke bellowing insults at a group getting off a coach. Trying to referee the situation is pub landlord TJ Ballantyne. Loach and Laverty don’t simplify the harsh realities of everyone caught in this situation. Tory and Labour ­governments and councils have taken jobs, education, training and pensions from old and young workers.

The refugees have lost out too—from family members to mental and physical health. Both are short of money and self-respect, loaded down by the most elementary of human needs. Dave Turner as TJ is utterly convincing as the worried, pragmatic manager of The Old Oak pub. He jostles the demands of regulars who carp on about the new arrivals with his wish to give the new arrivals a break.

TJ’s wife has divorced him and his estranged son has left him, so his dog is his only companion. He walks a fine personal and political line to survive. Loach told Socialist Worker that this character is key. “Everything around him shouts out despair,” he said. “From what’s happened to the community, the nature of work, the conscious cruelty to vulnerable people and the uses of hunger.
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Listen to The Cineskinny podcast!

The Cineskinny is the film review podcast from The Skinny – this week Anahit tells us about her new book BFFs, plus chat on Hello Dankness & Rye Lane

The Cineskinny is the film podcast from some of the team behind The Skinny – every fortnight we take some kind of look at the wide world of The Movies. We’re talking classic films, brand-new films, film festivals, the politics of film, arthouse thinkers *and* action bangers with loads of explosions.

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Anahit’s written a book! BFFs is about the radical potential of female friendship, so your best podcast pals are here for a pals’ chat about a pal’s book (except for Jamie, who is waylaid on another project we’ll tell you about later…)

Elsewhere, we take a big ol’ honk on Hello Dankness, the latest from mash-up nouveau-agitprop legends Soda_Jerk, ahead of its Glasgow Short Film Festival screening, and Anahit fills us in on the lovely Rye Lane.

New episodes of The Cineskinny are out every fortnight; listen below

Thanks to the Hippodrome Silent Film Festival for sponsoring The Cineskinny! hippfest.co.uk

‘People were panicking over whether I could do the Ian Curtis dance’: how we made Control

‘The first time we played She’s Lost Control they had around 150 Joy Division fans there. I ran to my trailer and vomited. One guy said to me: “You had better be good!”’

Sam Riley, played Ian Curtis

After leaving the National Youth Theatre, I spent a year trying to be an actor then decided I wanted to be a rock star instead. I did that for three years with my band, 10,000 Things, but with moderate to zero success. We played in a pub called the Primrose in Leeds and, because of my appearance, they billed us as “Ian Curtis fronts the Rolling Stones”. I didn’t even know who Ian was. We got dropped by our record label and I ended up in a retail warehouse folding clothes and working in a bar.

I rang my old agent and said that I would do absolutely anything. Control had nothing to do with a deep love of the music of Joy Division – it was pure chance that they were looking for an “Ian” the week I rang. For the casting, I told work I was going to the dentist, but there were three auditions and I kept having to go back. My teeth never looked any better though.

‘We’ve been together ever since’ … Sam Riley and Alexandra Maria Lara.
‘We’ve been together ever since’ … Sam Riley and Alexandra Maria Lara. Photograph: Momentum Pictures/Allstar

My life was a mess in Leeds. I wasn’t in good shape. But I got the job on my 26th birthday and the movie saved me: just by coming to the set, having a purpose, being relied upon, being Ian. Samantha Morton, who played Ian’s wife Debbie, was incredible and led rehearsals. In one scene, she improvised and talked me into a corner. I burst into tears at the end of it. I thought, “Wow! This is acting.” I fell in love with Alexandra Maria Lara, who played the journalist Annik, and we’ve been together ever since, living in Berlin.

I think Anton Corbijn, the director, ended up remortgaging his house because when people heard his lead was some pub rock singer from Leeds, everyone wanted to run. I knew how much he was risking and didn’t want to make any mistakes. Before we started shooting, he asked me to do “the Ian Curtis dance” for him again. Some people were panicking over whether I would do it right.

The concert scenes were insane. In all my previous gigs, I had never had anyone in the audience look at me like that. The first time we were going to play She’s Lost Control, they had around 150 Joy Division fans as the crowd. I ran to my trailer and vomited. As I came out, a guy in his 50s said: “I saw Ian about 10 times. You had better be fuckin’ good!”

Ian was a torn personality: a young, married father and a rock star being pulled towards America and glory, dealing with epilepsy and the side effects of medication. He was just a boy. I wonder if that’s what I was like: confident on stage, insecure in life. Maybe that’s why Anton hired me.

During rehearsals, we went to see New Order play. That was strange. Backstage, all the actors playing band members sought out their corresponding musician – and I obviously couldn’t.

Anton Corbijn, director

‘I didn’t believe I was capable of it’ … Anton Corbijn.
‘I didn’t believe I was capable of it’ … Anton Corbijn. Photograph: Stephan Vanfleteren

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Local Hero: New book charts the making of a Scottish film classic 40 years on

Peter Riegert inside the famous phone box used for Local Hero.

It is revered as one of the greatest Scottish films of all-time, which brought Hollywood legend Burt Lancaster to the Highlands, turned a fishing village and a little-known beach into tourist attractions, and gave Peter Capaldi his breakthrough acting role.

By Brian Ferguson

Forty years after writer-director Bill Forsyth’s Local Hero put Scotland on the global movie map, the full story of how it was made is set to be told.

A new book due to be published next month explains why the production was shot on the east and west coast of Scotland, recalls the impact made on and off screen by Lancaster, and reveals the scenes which did not make the final cut.

The book recalls how Lancaster struggled to perform his lines, the director’s insistence that the depiction of a mermaid in the film be toned down and how he was forced to change the ending of the film to keep its American funders happy.

Jonathan Melville’s book is drawn from new and archive interviews with key players in the Local Hero story, and a Q&A event he conducted with Forsyth in Mallaig when the film was shown to mark the 15th anniversary of Scotland’s mobile cinema The Screen Machine.

It recalls how Forsyth joined forces with producer David Puttnam to try to make Local Hero, despite the latter’s “very stupid decision” to turn down the director’s hit comedy Gregory’s Girl.

As the finishing touches were being made to both Puttnam’s new film, Chariots of Fire, and Gregory’s Girl, the producer invited Forsyth to a private screening of the classic Ealing comedy Whisky Galore!

Puttnam suggested to Forsyth that there could be a contemporary tale inspired by the Shetland oil boom in the early 1970s and the financial benefits that were negotiated for islanders.

Actors Denis Lawson and Peter Riegert with director Bill Forsyth during the filming of Local Hero. Picture: Enigma/Goldcrest/Kobal/Shutterstock

Actors Denis Lawson and Peter Riegert with director Bill Forsyth during the filming of Local Hero. Picture: Enigma/Goldcrest/Kobal/Shutterstock

The director produced a two-page “treatment” of a story following a Texan oil executive sent to Scotland to seal a deal to acquire a small village and its beach for a new refinery.

Crucial finance from Goldcrest Films, who had also backed Chariots of Fire, was pledged at the BAFTAs, where the film won three awards, with Warner Brothers later coming on board.

Lancaster who was also at the BAFTAs ceremony, to collect an award for his role in Atlantic City, was handed Local Hero’s script. Forsyth had long had the actor in mind for the role of oil company boss Felix Happer.

Forsyth said: “When I was writing it, I imagined him saying the words, and I suppose once you get that locked in your head you start to write for that voice. I was kind of writing for him, but that was just for me.”

He recalled: “It was me and one of those tiny tape recorders. I’d start at 10am, when it was getting light and finish at 3pm when it wasn’t, find a pub and go and transcribe the notes I’d made, spend the rest of the evening in the bar, and start again the next day. It took about two weeks.”

Local Hero’s location manager David Brown, who would go on to produce Outlander more than 30 years later, said: “For many of us it was absurd, the notion that you can film on the east coast and West Coast and connect the two things. For a lot of the Scots, it was like ‘How can this even work?, but it works in the movie.”

Recalling filming in Pennan, Brown said: “I don’t remember any huge opposition to it. People were more accepting of it and also more prepared to get on with their lives without feeling a desperate need to photograph everything in a kind of an Instagram-type world.”

The production team had to create key locations for the film, including the church overlooking the beach and a shack which was home to beachcomber Ben, who resists Mac’s overtures to sell up.

Tasked with finding detritus washed ashore for Ben’s hut, property master Arthur Wicks had to recruit a local yachtsman for a week to find enough.

Actors Peter Riegert (Mac) and Chris Rozycki (Viktor) star in Bill Forsyth's classic comedy Local Hero, which was partly shot in Pennan, in Aberdeenshire. Picture: Moviestore/Shutterstock

Actors Peter Riegert (Mac) and Chris Rozycki (Viktor) star in Bill Forsyth’s classic comedy Local Hero, which was partly shot in Pennan, in Aberdeenshire. Picture: Moviestore/Shutterstock

The rest of Local Hero’s cast were a mix of established Scottish actors such as Fulton Mackay and Rikki Fulton, familiar faces from previous Forsyth films, including Gregory’s Girl star John Gordon Sinclair, newcomers like Peter Capaldi, Jenny Seagrove and Tam Dean Burn, and Peter Riegert, who was cast to play ambitious oil executive Mac despite pressure on Forsyth to consider better-known actors including Henry Winkler and Michael Douglas.

Riegert said: “At breakfast, lunch, and dinner, if I wasn’t working I was seeing them, and they had such interesting faces and distinctive voices. Not only were the beach and the sunsets interesting, but all the people were exotic.”

The book recalls the huge logistical challenges involved in making a film deploying key locations on either side of the country to depict the fictional fishing village and beach of Ferness.

Production designer Roger Murray-Leach travelled all over Scotland on a hunt that would eventually bring the cast and crew to the village of Pennan, in Aberdeenshire, and Camusdarach Beach, near Mallaig, in Lochaber.

He said: “We spent about a week scouring the west coast of Scotland and we didn’t find a matchstick on a beach. They were spotless all the way to Mallaig.”

Forsyth intended Local Hero to end with Mac returning to his flat in Houston and examining the beach shells he has kept in his pocket, but was forced to add an additional scene, which shows the red phone box in Ferness ringing, after the executives bankrolling the film insisted on a happier ending.

Riegert recalled: “‘Bill and I were in Los Angeles and we were meeting with one of the Warner Brothers executives. The executive said: ‘We love the movie, but the ending is so sad.’”And Bill said, “Oh, that’s great. Thanks so much, I really appreciate that. I had no idea you were gonna see it that way.’”

The village of Pennan, put on the map by Bill Forsyth's 1983 film Local Hero, starring Burt Lancaster, Peter Riegert, Fulton Mackay and Denis Lawson, some of which was filmed here.

The village of Pennan, put on the map by Bill Forsyth’s 1983 film Local Hero, starring Burt Lancaster, Peter Riegert, Fulton Mackay and Denis Lawson, some of which was filmed here.


Source: Local Hero: New book charts the making of a Scottish film classic 40 years on