The Navigators (UK-Germany-Spain, 2001)

Working the railtrack

Working the railtrack

This is a wonderful dramatisation of the stupidity of ‘free market’ economics. As British Rail was dismantled, having been starved of investment for years, the private sector moved in with flashy logos and cut price practices. As ‘headline’ unemployment in the UK barrels over 2 million, it is useful to be reminded of the the ’80s recession (when the film’s set) that decimated communities in the name of efficiency. As the film shows, the ‘free market’ (it can never actually be ‘free’, that doesn’t exist in reality) takes no account of people on its balance sheet. The bullying boss who insists that if you can’t implement the cost-cutting policies then you’ll have to resign knows that he won’t suffer as long as he’s exploiting others.

As is usual in Loach film’s, the camaraderie and humour of the working class looms large. The authenticity of milieux allow us to engage sympathetically with the characters; why then do Loach’s films fail to engage on audience in the UK? This film was even premiered on television! Maybe its because the British (English?) working class are greatly lacking in class consciousness (though that wasn’t true of the miners) or the anti-intellectual strand in British culture is suspicious of films that try to be more than entertainment.

It would be worth putting this in a double-bill with The Full Monty (UK, 1998) – both are set in Sheffield – and discussing afterwards what messages and values these films convey.

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