[— Playing for real ‘
Ken Loach’s harrowing drama Ladybird, lxzdybird features devastating performances from newcomers Crissy Rock and Vladimir Vega. They share their experiences with Alan Morrison.
It’s not just the content of Ken Loach‘s ﬁlms that make them so powerfully controversial. it‘s his presentation of the material that packs the knockout punch. In a lesser director’s hands. allegations of a shoot-to-kill policy in Northern Ireland (Hidden Agenda). criticism of casual labour safety standards on building sites (Riff-Raff) or. most recently. a contentious account of the present Social Services system (Ixrdybird. Ixrdybird) would still prick consciences and fan smouldering debates. But we
only have to look more closely at that last example to
realise how an American TV movie could turn the most traumatic elements of a true story into a glamorous. crusading. rnanipulatively dramatic courtroom struggle for custody of a child.
‘I just had to say to myself that for six weeks, I am this woman. The tears were real, the pain was real.’
With very few exceptions. Loach has always shown
a clear preference for working with non~professionals
and character actors. He has evolved a technique that uses the script more as a narrative blueprint. allowing his cast to improvise key scenes around deﬁned subject matter and framework. These are not so much ‘real’ people hired to play themselves. as performers who skip the actorly level of well researched emotional responses and go directly for a rawer. less disciplined ‘truth’. The audience cannot always relax in the knowledge that they’re only watching a movie.
Loach’s latest ﬁlm. [xzdybird Ladybird. uses a screenplay by Scottish playwright Rona Munro to tell the true story of ‘Maggie’. a woman with a history of relationships with violent men. who has her four children — each by a different father — taken from her after she refuses to co-operate fully with Social Services. At this low point. however. she meets Paraguyan refugee Jorge; but when they decide to have a child. it too is taken into care on account of social work bureaucracy. the malicious slander of a neighbour and Maggie‘s own ﬁery temper.
The fact that Maggie is clearly presented as her own worst enemy gives the ﬁlm a precarious sense of balance. She is a woman whose sense of her own inner pain has spilled over into loud-mouthed anger. Some minimal care has been taken to show social workers as fellow victims ofthe ‘system’; but what we see of Maggie and Jorge’s genuinely loving relationship places our sympathy ﬁrmly on the side
~ ‘ v
Ladybird. ladyhtrd: ‘contentious account ot the present Social Servlces acted
of the underdogs. When their new-born baby is ripped from Maggie‘s arms moments after its birth. we know that. no matter what case histories state, there can be no justiﬁcation fora system that cold- heartedly causes such anguish.
The lead roles in ludybird. Ixzdy'bird are played by Crissy Rock and Vladimir Vega. Rock. a Liverpudlian. has worked as a stand-up eornrnedienne on the northern club circuit; Vega. a Chilean political exile once imprisoned for his writings. is a professional musician. Both. therefore, are used to the concept of performing. even ifthey haven't appeared in front of a camera before. They also have loose links to the characters that they are playing. For Rock. it may be no more than the fact that she is a fiercely maternal woman. a mother of two and step-mother of three. ln Vega's case. the similarities are more deﬁned.
‘Jorge and I both come from the same culture. we both speak Spanish.‘ he agrees. ‘His country had a military coup. my country had the same. But apart from that. I think things get a bit different. ldidn't come to Britain to try to ﬁnd paradise or a richer world; it was life or death. lfl hadn’t come here. I would probably be dead now. Jorge came to this
country in order to open another door. I think he was
a bit naive. a bit simple in the way he looked at Britain and the way he thought it would be here.‘ Loach’s supporters — and I count myself amongst them — often find themselves on precarious ground when defending the way he uses his actors. He must be fully aware that he draws from them the most painful emotional responses without the distance of the actor‘s craft. and yet we forgive this exploitation for the creditable purposes to which it is put. Rock‘s
no-holds-harred performance — which won her the
Best Actress Award at this year's Berlin Film Festival — obviously caused her great distress.
particularly as she wasn’t given access to a script to see how it all turned out.
‘I had to take away. in my mind‘s eye. the camera. the lights. the cables. and just say to rnyselfthat for six weeks. I am this woman.‘ she says. ‘Everything . that’s going to happen to her is happening to me
because I have been switched upside down and sucked into somebody else’s body. The tears were real. the pain was real. everything was spontaneous. l was staying in a ﬂat in London on my own. It took two days to do the court scene, and at the end of the ﬁrst day, I asked if she was going to get the kids back. But it was like the Secret Service, no one would say anything. I remember going back to this ﬂat. and l’rn sitting there, and I’m thinking. “What’s she going to do if she doesn’t get the kids back? No, they can’t do that to her". And then I began thinking, “Well, in the morning. when I get the kids. we’ll go to MacDonalds and . . . wait! Hang on! They’re not my kids". I was worrying sick about how this woman’s life was going to turn out the next day. So when, in court. they said. no, she can’t have the kids back. I cried for her. My heart broke for her.’
Ultimately, their reactions to the whole experience can be summed up by asking what they most h0pe emerges from audiences seeing the ﬁlm. Vega takes the humanist view - ‘Everyone should be given a chance: ifpeople get to that reasoning and understand the idea of friendship with others, giving a helping hand even if we don't know them, that would be a great thing.‘
‘I didn’t come to Brltaln to try to find paradlse or a rlcher world; It was llte or death.’
Rock’s response is purely personal and from the heart: ‘I’d hate not to know where my kids were, so I h0pe that Maggie's children get in touch with her. Every night, I pray to God that they phone. even if it‘s just. “Hi mum, I'm alive; I don’t want to get involved in your life, butjust to let you know I'm here. l’m breathing. I miss you". There’s two sides to every story. We’ve looked at Maggie’s pain - what about the children. being wrenched from their mother? l'm stuttering here, I’m getting myself all worked up again . . .'
Ladybird, Ladybird opens on Friday 7 October:
16 The List 7—20 October 1994