Ken Loach was in Birmingham last week in a bid to drum up support in the city for a fledgling political party.

The 78-year-old film director was on a visit to the city to address 200 people at a political conference alongside Kate Hudson and Sharon McCourt, from the fledgling Left Unity party, Dr Eduardo Maura, from new Spanish left wing party Podemos and Marina Prentoulis, from Greek party Syriza.

Dissatisfied with all of the main political parties and the state of the nation he might be, but Loach comes across as a warm, friendly and instantly likeable soul with pride and passion at the forefront of his mind.

It’s eight years since he finally won the Palme d’Or at Cannes where he’s been revered for decades with nominations galore.

The film was The Wind That Shakes The Barley, which some critics felt was overly sympathetic to the Republican cause.

Cillian Murphy pictured with Helen McCrory at the premiere of the second series of Peaky Blinders at Cineworld, Broad Street, Birmingham.
 

Early 20th century politics aside, its star was Cork-born Cillian Murphy – now the 38-year-old central figure in Peaky Blinders, the BBC2 drama which is finding an international audience for the way it is mythologising gangland life in 1920s Birmingham.

Its success has left its writer and creator Steven Knight planning more series and dreaming of a sound stage for the city where features and television could be shot.

But Loach, the director of films including Hidden Agenda, Land And Freedom and Looking For Eric, offers a word of caution.

“Cillian is a good pal,” says Ken. “And a terrific actor.

“I have a huge respect and affection for him, but I’ve only seen bits of the series. I think Birmingham people have a shrewd ear for the voice.

“And I’m not sure which part of Birmingham the (Peaky Blinder) accents are from."

Is that a polite way of saying the accents aren’t very good in the series, Mr Loach?

“Accents are very specific, but (in TV shows) they get flattened out,” he explains.

“When that happens, you lose a lot of the nuance of the character and performance.”

Perhaps that’s because Peaky Blinders has been shot in Liverpool and Leeds with actors pretending they are in the Birmingham of 90 years ago. Wouldn’t a sound stage and studio help?

Loach disagrees. Radically.

“The best studios are the streets,” he says.

“You might have a small studio for interviews. But for films and TV programmes and fiction, it’s the streets themselves which give you the truth. I’ve never been very keen on studios personally. A studio is an empty space, a still space.

“Streets, houses, parks... they’re full of life. You don’t need to be noticed (when you're shooting a feature film).

“Just where you stand and how you find a space ad how you set up meant that was never an issue. People have different ways of working and I wouldn’t want to prioritise one way or another. Personally, I think it’s more important the money goes towards the writing and the crews.”

Jimmy’s Hall, Ken’s most recent movie earlier this year, was nominated for a Palme d’Or in Cannes.

Not untypically, it barely had a release in this country and the suggestion was that he’d made his last movie.

But if filmmaking can be considered to be a drug, then it still seems to be in Ken’s system.

“There are so many stories to tell,” he smiles.

“And there’s so much going on. It’s very hard to give it up.

“It’s a huge privilege to be able to make a film. And I will scratch around and try to come up with something.

“Perhaps I’ll do another documentary like Spirit of ‘45 so that I can work nine til six – I’ve stood on enough draughty corners to last a long time.”

 

Born in Nuneaton in 1936, Ken studied law at St Peter’s College Oxford, moved to London and has been based in the West Country for years.

“I’ve had three football teams,” he smiles. “Nuneaton Borough, then Fulham and now Bath City.”

Ken’s finest hour was arguably directing Cathy Come Home (1966), a Wednesday Play which helped to chance society’s attitude towards the homeless.

“I got on really well with (its Erdington-born producer) Tony Garnett and we worked together for about 15 years, even though he was a Villa fan,” Ken laughs.

“He’s retired now, but he wanted to go to America, and I didn’t.”

But if he’d shot Bread and Roses (2000) over there wasn’t he ever tempted to follow suit?

“That was shot in LA but I prefer European films,” he says. “They’re more interesting and varied.”

Despite having a canon of work going back to the mid 1960s, Ken doesn’t have a favourite movie of his own.

“Films are like your children,” he smiles. “You can’t choose between them.

“Each one has its own family and you remember the people who worked on each one. Kes (1969) has lasted.

“If the people in your film are true and viewers recognise the truth of the people, then they will last. If it feels forced, or false, it won’t.

“In the end, it’s only a film, so it depends on the audience.”

As a man who worries about the future for Britain, did he not wish that he’d used his talent for communication in politics – or has he always felt that he would be more successful articulating his thoughts through film?

“I feel sorry for the kids of today,” he says, “because people have lost their security.

“The situation that a lot of people find themselves in is so desperate and the control of corporations now crosses international boundaries.

“When Tony Blair said ‘Labour means business’ he meant it literally. So (none of the main political parties) is speaking for the interests of ordinary people.

“The only option we hear is UKIP, who have a lot of friends. Every story the right wing press does about immigration (indirectly) helps them.

“But there are so many people who stand at the opposite end. A lot of immigrants are poor and among the most exploited.

“For the nation, I think things are getting more desperate. Across Europe, right wing groups are growing stronger in France, Italy, Hungary... and here with (UKIP leader) Farage.

“It is feeding off the disastrous economic policies of the last 30 years since Mrs Thatcher. Since then, the poor have got poorer and the strong have got richer and the far right is thriving on it. We need an alternative.”

Ken hasn’t seen it yet, but says he is looking forward to watching a new documentary called Tony Benn: Will and Testament given that he knew the late former Labour Party agitator and had featured him in Spirit of ‘45.

“He welcomed us into his home,” says Ken.

“Tony Benn was a very moral man. He had no time for the slick political interview, because he could see right through it. He had a lot of warmth. And he was right in most of what he said.”