Exclusive: Director Ken Loach on Why He Doesn't Want to Meet British PM Theresa May

Ken Loach
Ken Loach speaks during an interview at the Institute Francais in London, June 8. The filmmaker tells Newsweek about the social change his new film hopes to inspire. DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP/Getty

Veteran British filmmaker Ken Loach has hit out at British Prime Minister Theresa May for her attitude to austerity and says there is no point talking to the government about welfare policies.

“She knows exactly what she’s doing, [the government] knows exactly what they are doing, they are punishing the most vulnerable people,” he told Newsweek at the British Independent Film Awards (BIFA) in London Sunday.

The outspoken auteur’s latest film, social justice drama I, Daniel Blake , leads the nominations for the BIFAs with seven nods, including best British independent film and best director.

The film tells the story of a man forced to claim welfare after falling ill and leaving his job. It reveals the struggles he experiences in gaining support from the government.

I, Daniel Blake was received with high praise from critics and audiences on release. In May, it won the prestigious Palme d’Or prize at Cannes film festival.

Asked if he’d be open to meeting with May to discuss the issues presented by the film, Loach said: “I think we’d need a lot of persuading to go. She knows what she’s doing. There’s no convincing them. We’ve just got to beat them. We have to defeat them, not talk to them.”

Loach, known for his long-standing left-wing political activism, says, “I hope [the film] sheds a light on one aspect of what’s going on, the consequences for the people at the bottom. I hope it’s a contribution to that.”

The director says that social change can only be brought about by “ordinary people.”

“It’s not the fat cats that will bring change,” he says. “The rich won’t vote for their own poverty. I’m not bothered if they see it. I don’t want them to see it.”

Loach’s leading man, comedian Dave Johns, who plays the titular Daniel Blake, tells Newsweek he thinks the government would like the movie to “disappear” because of the way it has affected the public’s perception of austerity.

“It’s not going to [disappear]. People are getting angry. A guy came up to me, he was about 80. He said, ‘Tell Ken Loach this film has given a voice to the working class that haven’t been listened to in this country for 40 years,’” said Johns.

Television comeback

Speaking to Newsweek at Sunday’s BIFA ceremony, Loach also addressed his recent criticism of Downton Abbey and other television period dramas for promoting “fake nostalgia” of the past instead of focusing on the issues plaguing Britain today.

Loach, 80, said he wouldn’t himself be interested in returning to television. The director has produced various social justice dramas for BBC, including the groundbreaking 1966 television play Cathy Come Home , which shed light on homelessness.

He criticized the “oppressive” nature of television production today compared to the process earlier in his career.

“I’m not sure I could [do it] really,” he said. “A TV series is a long commitment. When you get older you do one film at a time.

“TV now, the commissioning process is so oppressive. They’re squeezing originality out of a lot of work…there’s such a hierarchy of commissioners, producers, heads of this, heads of that. When we were doing television, we just did the program. There wasn’t that oppressive, bureaucratic structure. It’s not an easy medium to work on. I’m not sure I’d have the patience.”