After his unlikely collaboration with Eric Cantona in Looking For Eric, Ken Loach is back to his trailblazing best with Route Irish, which deals with the impact of the Iraq war on private security contractors. And when ShortList spoke to the 74-year-old director, he didn’t hold back on one subject in particular…
In Route Irish, why did you choose to focus on private security contractors rather than the Army?
We wanted to explore the things that lie under the war. The war was fought in the interests of the big corporations, and it was being waged by mercenaries from private corporations. What was touching was that when a soldier dies, he gets the full treatment with the flag over the coffin and the parade. When the body of a contractor comes home, it’s just him in a box, and nobody speaks of it. It became apparent that when you privatise war, you hide it.
John Bishop is in the film — what made you cast a comedian in a key role?
I’ve always worked with comics, particularly from working men’s clubs. John wasn’t quite so well-known when we made the film — it’s changed dramatically for him over the past year.
Did he require coaching?
None whatsoever — he took to it like a duck to water. He was brilliant — funny, believable, strong, excellent. He could do a lot more if he wanted to.
You are a prominent supporter of Julian Assange. Has your opinion of him changed after the revelations of how he behaved with various newspapers, such as The Guardian?
The Guardian is losing sight of the main point here, and the vendetta it’s putting out against him is petty and puts it in a bad light. There’s a whole range of things that we know about now that we ought to have known about, and didn’t. So, where are you, Guardian journalists, if you’re doing your job right? You tell us before you start criticising Julian Assange. And if you go through the Guardian hierarchy, I bet there are a few tales of people behaving badly.
What about his fight against extradition to Sweden, where he faces serious criminal charges?
There isn’t an issue — it’s clear that he’s being set up. Clearly the Yanks want to get him back and either imprison him for a long time, or worse. We need a bit of solidarity with someone who has just told us things that we were entitled to know.
How has Ed Miliband been impressing you as Labour leader?
Well, he’s a version of New Labour. I mean, the Labour party is now a party of the right wing. There’s no mainstream party on the left that stands for the interests of ordinary people, such as security of employment, a good school for your kids, good medical treatment, a pension when you’re old, somewhere you can afford to live that’s pleasant. Simple needs. We don’t have any of them and yet we’re one of the most prosperous countries in the world. A lot of people are making huge profits and not fulfilling their social obligations, through tax or whatever.
Do you have any guilty pleasures?
I go to watch football. I go to as many games as I can. I’ll probably go to see Partick Thistle this weekend.
Are you still in touch with Eric Cantona?
Yeah, we texted each other ‘Happy New Year’. He’s a one-off.
Do you think any footballer will ever inspire people the way Cantona did? The list of footballers that have been caught with their pants down is growing…
The list of journalists would be just as great, if people were that interested. Turn your fire on your own trade! What do you all get up to? I’d love to know.
Route Irish is at cinemas nationwide now