Page last updated at 16:56 GMT, Friday, 21 May 2010 17:56 UK

Loach in Cannes in fighting form

By Neil Smith
Entertainment reporter, BBC News, in Cannes

Ken Loach
Ken Loach is a front-runner to win the Palme d'Or

Last year Ken Loach was in Cannes with Looking for Eric, a comic fantasy about a depressed postman who receives visitations from former footballer Eric Cantona.

This year, though, the veteran British film-maker is back on more familiar ground with Route Irish, a revenge drama based around the deployment of private security contractors in Iraq.

The film was a last-minute addition to the competition line-up and marks the 10th time Loach has been in contention for the Palme d'Or - an award he won in 2006 with The Wind That Shakes the Barley.

And while his latest has so far received mixed reviews, it shows the director has lost none of his righteous indignation as he approaches his 74th birthday.

"The Iraq war was a monstrous crime against the Iraqi people," he told reporters on Friday.

"It was illegal. We have tolerated torture [and] there's been massive corruption. It was a war fought for naked greed.

"The challenge was to find a story and characters that would reveal this - a conflict or knot you could unravel that would reveal the landscape of what happened.

"History is lived though people's lives and their experiences. It was through exploring those experiences that we hoped would reveal the horror of the war."

Route Irish cast
Route Irish cast Trevor Williams, John Bishop and Mark Womack


Largely set in Liverpool, Route Irish tells of a former soldier turned private security contractor investigating the death of a friend in Baghdad. The title refers to the road that links Baghdad Airport to the heavily fortified "Green Zone" - said to be one of the most dangerous routes in the world.

To extract information from one unwilling source, Fergus (Mark Womack) resorts at one point to the interrogation technique known as waterboarding.

The sequence is one of the most disturbing in the movie, not least because the actor in question - Trevor Williams - endured the controversial process for real.

"We were going to shoot the sequence with a kind of mask over his face, but once we started to shoot it the mask didn't work," Loach explained.

"He was waterboarded, poor man, and he bore it stoically."

Loach's quest for authenticity is also evident in his casting of Craig Lundberg, a real British serviceman who was blinded by a grenade in Iraq, in a supporting role.

Yet it did not extend to shooting in Iraq itself, something the director said would have been "a needless adventure".

"There was no real point filming in Baghdad," he added. "The point was to recreate certain scenes from the war, and Jordan is so close you can't tell the difference."

Route Irish film still
Like The Hurt Locker, Route Irish was filmed in Jordan

A self-confessed "grumpy old man", Loach has lost none of his distaste for "the great and the good lording it around the earth", whom he blames for the Iraq war and its aftermath - "the Blairs, the Bushes and the rest".

"If we can't put them in the dock in the law courts, we have to put them in the dock of public opinion," he said. "They need to be brought to account."

Loach, a former member of the Labour Party, has been typically outspoken in the past about what he calls New Labour's "destruction of hope".

If incoming prime minister David Cameron believes he will have a smoother ride than his immediate predecessors, though, he should swiftly disabuse himself of that notion.

According to Loach, the recent election in Britain has brought "the traditional face of the ruling classes" back to power: "Wealthy white men; privileged backgrounds; privately educated; beautiful manners; fine tailoring."

"Don't be fooled by the gentlemanly exterior," he went on.

"They will savage you, as they are about to savage the working people of Britain."

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