Mark Kermode revisits Ken Loach’s acclaimed 1995 film, a rare departure from the director’s traditional British milieu that focuses on the Spanish Civil War. Kermode analyses how the director’s use of well-honed realist techniques results in a historical drama with a rare vitality and naturalism.
Britain’s foremost social chronicler Ken Loach ventured beyond the UK for this passionate polemic set during the Spanish Civil War. Ian Hart plays David Carne, an idealistic young Liverpudlian who joins the international brigade to fight Franco’s fascists in the 1930s. As David becomes more engaged with his own side’s internecine conflicts than he does on the battlefield, he begins to learn the compromises and necessities of a brutal war.
While Loach may have a reputation as the most British of filmmaking institutions, Land and Freedom was first of three films made towards the end of the 1990s to focus on issues of international socialism. As such is has a more expansive, cinematic feel to many of his films, with its fine period detail and dramatic battle scenes. But the intelligence and intimacy of his best work remains, much of it deriving from Jim Allen’s typically humanistic screenplay. Land and Freedom would be Allen’s last Loach collaboration and final screen credit before his death in 1999; and from that point on Loach established another longstanding writer-director relationship with screenwriter Paul Laverty.