As a bit of light relief over the summer I spent several pleasant evenings watching again the Ken Loach / Jim Allen miniseries from 1975, Days of Hope. It’s a set of four feature-length films which cover the trials and tribulations of the English working class over a 10 year period, from the Great War to the General Strike of 1926.
I was struck by several intriguing aspects of the films. Most generally, as the first fully fledged overtly political films from Loach, Days of Hope set the agenda that will run through much of his work over the last 40 years. The victories (the ‘hopes’) of ‘ordinary working people’ are short-lived, and defeat is the more common denouement of the Loachian plot. There is also a, in my view, rather naive apparent espousal of Leninism.
Watching them during the latest bout of internecine strife within the Labour Party, the films seemed remarkably topical. Especially in the third film, set in 1924 during the troubled days of the first ever Labour government, Allen and Loach capture very well the sense of near paranoia that existed (and exists?) between the different factions of the Labour movement, with the sympathetic ‘centrist’, newly elected Labour MP accused of class treachery and betrayal by his own brother-in-law, a member of the then quite strong Communist Party. Corbynistas and their opponents could both learn much from the films’ lessons in history.
Perhaps the most significant, and perhaps slightly surprising aspect of the films for me, though, was the enduring interest that war has held for Ken Loach. We can see this thread first emerge here in the opening film, ‘1916: Joining Up’, to be picked up repeatedly in later films like Land and Freedom (1995), Carla’s Song (1996), The Wind that Shakes the Barley (2006), and his Iraq War film, Route Irish (2010). Even more specifically, and looking back to the miniseries as a whole, it is civil war, in a broad reading of that phrase, that seems of especial concern to the director. An interesting PhD topic for someone perhaps?!