I am rather embarrassed to have to admit that I had never seen a Ken Loach film, although he is one of the most important directors in England, and probably the world. I decided to take the chance to rectify this huge gaping hole in my film appreciation by taking the chance to see It’s A Free World… at a mini-Ken Loach retrospective at a Tokyo theater. One nice thing that theaters in Tokyo do is to rescreen a the last 4 or 5 films by a major director as a warm-up for audiences just before their latest film is released. In the build-up to Loach’s Looking For Eric, which is supposedly the first film he has made in his long career that has a happy ending, they played a few of his bleaker films.
It’s a Free World… is succeeds in being an engaging film thanks to Loach’s direction, a thoughtful, tense script by Paul Laverty, but mostly by a wonderful performance by Kierston Wareing as a bright, street-smart woman who has worked for a string of companies that profit from the European Union by taking money from Eastern Europeans and placing them in tough jobs in England. When she is fired after throwing a drink in the face of a British coworker who is harassing her while on a trip to Poland, she goes home and sets up her own business, running it with nothing more than a motorbike paid for with credit cards, the back garden of the local pub and the limited computer skills of her best friend. She is warned that dealing with immigrant workers, even those with proper papers, is a dangerous business, but she is a single mother with debts and pushes forward, quickly building up a business in which huge amounts of money and human resources change hands. Things get off track when she becomes emotionally involved with an Iranian family without papers and soon get really messy.
It is a thoughtful study of a very real social issue, but also a great example of how an independent film can work as a thriller/drama, while also existing in the real world.