I was planning on talking about whisky, but Ken Loach was more interested in talking about the end of capitalism.
Loach is a legendary filmmaker in British cinema, known for his gritty, brilliantly crafted dramas like "Kes," "Poor Cow," and "My Name is Joe." He is also an unapologetic leftist, something of a rarity these days. His films are in turns touching, troubling, and occasionally funny, but they are all rigorously from the point of view of the working class.
This week, following the death of Margaret Thatcher, Loach issued a fiery full-throated indictment of Britain's first female prime minister, which garnered headlines and turned into an Internet meme.
"Margaret Thatcher was the most divisive and destructive Prime Minister of modern times. Mass Unemployment, factory closures, communities destroyed -- this is her legacy," he wrote in a statement.
Thatcher famously steamrolled that country's labor unions, while privatizing its numerous state-owned companies. It's not surprising that they didn't exactly see eye to eye.
After rattling off some of her failings -- like having tea with Chilean strongman Augusto Pinochet, calling Nelson Mandela a criminal, and generally making life miserable for Britain's working class -- Loach ends his statement with a blistering, meme-worthy punch line.
"How should we honour her? Let's privatise her funeral. Put it out to competitive tender and accept the cheapest bid. It's what she would have wanted."
His statement was soon followed by the announcement that Thatcher's funeral would in fact take place at St. Paul's Cathedral and cost in the ballpark of $12 million.
Ken Loach hatches a meme
Loach's latest movie, "The Angels' Share" is something of a departure for the filmmaker. His previous movie, "Route Irish," is a grim tale about a military contractor in Iraq. His 2006 movie, "The Wind That Shakes the Barley," a masterful, unabashedly partisan look at the Irish war for independence, drew ire from British conservatives -- the royal army comes off as being about as sympathetic as a pack of Nazis -- and it won the top prize at Cannes. "Barley" might very well be one of the best war dramas ever made, but it doesn't exactly leave you with a smile on your face. "The Angel's Share" does. And after you leave the theater, you might just end up wanting a nice glass of single malt as well.
The film centers on Robbie (Paul Brannigan), a lad stuck in the mean streets of Glasgow with no job and little in the way of opportunities to better himself. Worse, his girlfriend's brother wants to kill him. But things change for Robbie when he befriends Harry (John Henshaw), a local contractor and hardcore whisky enthusiast. Robbie proves to have an unusually sensitive palate and nose, great traits for a master distiller. Robbie and his mates eventually have to resort to some mildly illegal capers in order to secure themselves steady middle-class jobs.
When I talked to him a couple weeks ago, though, he was quick to point out that this movie wasn't simply a charming lark.
"The subject itself is very serious. I mean these are thousands from thousands from thousands kids and we're offering them a future that is pretty hopeless," said Loach, referring to Britain's bleak post-austerity economy.
"I mean capitalism, for want of a better word, is in a state of collapse in Europe. Most of the things that were gained in the post-World War settlements are being lost if they haven't been lost already. I think the economic system is in the critical state and the question is how much pain would people bear in order to keep it going?"
In "Angels' Share," Loach manages to spin a tale that not only honors the craftsmanship and talents of the makers of Scotland's most famous beverage but also tweaks that world's ostentation.
"And the irony of whisky is that it's ridiculously expensive at the rare end of the single malts. No one could have taste buds refined enough to savor a whisky worth a million dollars. But that's what's being paid. It is a very pretentious industry at one level, but it's also produced by people of great skill and taste and discernment."
When I asked him if he was a fan of the drink at the center of his latest movie, he demurred.
"I like the scent of it better than the taste. I tend to drink a glass of wine rather than Scotch."
"The Angels' Share" opens in selected cities this weekend.
Follow me on Twitter (@jonccrow)
Check out the trailer for 'The Angel's Share':
- Arts & Entertainment
- Margaret Thatcher
- Ken Loach