"It's all sorted! It's all sorted!" Angie yells out at one point during an argument in It's a Free World, the new film from Ken Loach. What she really seems to be saying, however, is 'It's all sordid,' which it is. Angie, played by newcomer Kierston Wareing, is a 33 year-old wrangler of day laborers for the London work force. When the film opens she's hungry and ambitious, expecting not to spend her life standing on the docks forever, but with a little luck to actually start her own firm and make some real money, connecting eager young Eastern European workers to part-time employers in the U.K. However, she soon learns that the real money is not in the ones with all of their papers in order, but the ones with no papers whatsoever. Cinematical had a chance to speak with Ken Loach at this year's TIFF about the film, what it says about illegal immigration today, and what would drive him to make a dramatic, suspenseful fiction film around this topical and explosive premise.


Cinematical: I was reading over the press notes, and in the Q&A someone asked you 'Why hasn't Kierston been discovered until now?' That's the question I had about Angie, though. This is a character that's talented, hard-working, ambitious -- why would she have to resort to an illegal business? Why hasn't the workforce embraced her?

Ken Loach: I think there's a number of answers to that. First of all, nobody knows she's good at it until she does it. She's obviously a working-class girl. You can tell by the way she ... everything about her. Her speech, the way she talks. Men have very stereotypical views of her. She's obviously had a few disasterous relationships in her life, you know. Impetuous. She puts people's backs up sometimes because she speaks her mind. So you can see why she doesn't get on. And she's very kind of flirty, so men, again, they tend to put somebody who, when they want to pat her bottom, that's not the girl they think of promoting. And she plays into it. There's a lot of come-ons from Angie. She looks as though she puts it about a bit. So that's how men will treat her.

Cinematical: Is it realistic to have a woman as the main character? Is that a reality in today's London , in this business?

KL: I think it's very realistic that she does it. I mean, there are people recruiting at all levels. Gang masters, small agencies, big and medium-sized agencies. We met several run by women. So that's nothing new at all. It's the kind of job women are good at. No, I withdraw that. That's a terrible sexist comment. That kind of attention to detail -- a lot of it is secretarial organization. Getting people's registers and finding them work, making sure they're there. A lot of it is just very careful detail, the kind that women traditionally do in offices. So it's quite reasonable and normal that a woman would run her own agency.

Cinematical: Does making it a woman take care of the sympathetic aspect a bit?

KL: I think it helps. We see her victimized in a way particular to women. She's sexually harassed at work. She's a single mother, so she's someone who elicits your sympathy from the outset and then we want the audience to go on the journey she goes on and see why she does what she does. And to go from being sympathetic to being appalled at what she does. So the longer that thread is, the more the better. You want to go with her stage by stage and begin by seeing it as reasonable and end by thinking its appalling.

Cinematical: I think I caught her age at one point -- 33. Doesn't someone who is hovering around 30 and hasn't quite realized their ambitions have the right to be a little ruthless?

KL: At whose expense?

Cinematical: Well, that's the question. I guess I just identified with that aspect a little. How does one pursue ambition aggressively? It's a tough question.

KL: It is, but then it gives you another question -- why do we organize society in such a way that success is marked by how heavily you can screw other people. We ought to be organizing society in such a way that people cooperate, rather than try and exploit each other.

Cinematical: But has it ever been that way?

KL: Well, I guess they said that in the Middle Ages about feudalism. Feudalism is all we know, we can't imagine anything else! Society is developing all the time. And also, you say 'Has it ever been that way?' Well, it started to be that way in one or two countries. It started to be that way in in 36' and in the early 70s and in the 80s, and what happened? Uncle Sam comes in and kills you.

Cinematical: Is Rose a character more in line with your point of view?

KL: Rose is just a creature of her age, like Angie. It's just that she doesn't have the capacity to be quite as single-minded as Angie. And there are things that Angie does that, in the end, she can't stomach. I think that's fairly common -- people are different. But she likes the money. The things that she does do, that she gets persuaded into ... it's a process. At one point she just says 'that's a step too far.'

Cinematical: Well, which of them do you see as being more successful in life, down the road?

KL: What do you mean by life?

Cinematical: Angie is obviously more aggressive in business, so I see her getting further up that ladder no matter what, and there's that shot near the end when we Rose's name taken off the company banner -- she's out of there, onto something completely different.

KL: She's not as driven as Angie, so she'll probably ... I don't know. It could go any number of ways. She will sort of settle back into a less aggressive situation. Whereas, Angie's got the taste for it. You see them at film festivals all the time -- producers, agents, directors and actors. Driven by what they see as success. It might turn out for them well in one aspect of their life, and not so well in others. It's something you see in your trade, don't you?

Cinematical: Definitely. The key difference being of course, that in a business like Angie's, we know exactly at whose expense it is. Did you ever consider having the immigrant characters play larger roles, as opposed to being relatively faceless?

KL: Well, there's Karol, and he's the character they engage with. It was a film with quite a tight focus. It's Angie's story, so there wasn't really the scope to fill in a lot of characters. We'd have to tell the story differently to do that. You could do it, yeah. But we hoped to have an insight into the immigrant workers through Karol. He's one of the three main characters.

Cinematical: Did you think about how the film would be perceived differently in the as opposed to the The different political atmosphere will color every review, and the perception of everyone who sees it.

KL: Not really, I mean you try to tell stories out of your own culture and your own experience and that's our experience in Western Europe . I think the basic principle is the same. Immigrants are welcomed in because they're cheap, and ordered out because they're foreign. That's the hypocrisy of the right wing. The right wing in the shape of the employer who wants cheap labor. The right wing in the form of the kind of small-minded chauvinist and xenophobe who only wants to see people of his own color and his own background in his country. So it's the hypocrisy of the right. The left has got a different agenda all-together.

Cinematical: Well, there's certainly no serious anti-business left in America.

KL: Then it's not left, is it? It's another aspect of the right.

Cinematical: How do you think Gordon Brown would view this film?

KL: Brown would be quite hostile to the film, if he understood it. I'm sure he would. He's a bright man, but he'd be deeply hostile to it.

Cinematical: Why?

KL: Because he knows that cheap labor is at the heart of the economy -- the economy that he has promoted and shaped for the last decade. Cheap labor is central to that. The price of food in the supermarkets is low because of the laws on minimum wage being broken. If the laws on minimum wage were effective and everyone were paid the minimum wage, at the requisite number of hours, the price of food would escalate hugely. And he would lose his battle, his so-called battle, against inflation. Therefore, he would fail. So he has to subvert this own legislation in order to succeed in his own project. That's the absurd contradiction. He's a politician to support big business in every way that they want. For example, they will all make pious statements about solving poverty in the third world, at the same time the clothing [and food] in our supermarkets is made by people in Bangladesh, working for four pence an hour. That's what? It amounts to a few dollars a week, maybe twenty dollars or thirty dollars a month. People living in tin shacks. If we don't get those imports at that rate, the cost of living will go up hugely and his whole budget, the balance within the country's economy, will fail. And it relies on this exploited labor, which of course he can't acknowledge, but it's clear.

Cinematical: There's that brief conversation between Angie and her father about the whole subject, and it gets base pretty quickly, with her sarcastically asking him if he wants to join the National Front. Pretty sad commentary.

KL: Well, it's a very sensitive subject. On the one hand, you want to express solidarity with people who come with nothing and come very vulnerable and, from their point of view, are simply trying to support their families and just earn a living. Of course you want to express solidarity with them. But if you mention the subject of immigration, it becomes a right-wing subject very quickly because the right-wing will leap on it. 'Get the immigrants out.' So for the father to develop a position that just questions the whole way in which people are having to move, in the hundreds of thousands, to find work, to question that without in any way attacking or denigrating the people who are doing it, is quite a tricky thing to do.

Cinematical: I see Angie as being fairly a-political. She's clearly not had to turn over those ideas in her head. She hasn't given it a lot of thought.

KL: None at all, consciously, but it depends on how you define politics. She's a product of the age, in which people, by and large, don't vote. She's a-political like her generation is a-political. It's a very political position to be in, to say 'this is the way the world is and we can't change it, so go along with it, make your own pile and screw everybody else.' It's actually a very political position, but it's a-political in the sense of seeing voting as being irrelevant, but it's political in the sense of your subtext being 'this is the way the world is and we can't do anything about it.'

Cinematical: The young voters in Britain -- do they vote in about the same numbers as in U.S.? Pretty low?

KL: It's pretty low numbers. They see politics as being irrelevant, because it's a charade. What passes for political debate is kind of, Westminster gossip.

Cinematical: Do you think we could benefit from an Australian style compulsory voting system?

KL: It doesn't make any difference. You've got to have ... there's got to be a real political struggle that people can relate to, and at the moment we don't have it. They all, all the three main parties in , as in the big parties here and in the States, are pro-business. They follow the business agenda, both in foreign policy and in domestic policy. So whoever you vote for, the boss wins.

Cinematical: But don't Britain's Liberal Democrats get attacked when they propose even small tax increases?

KL: By a press which is pro-business. What would you expect? That's the ideology of the times, and it's a very ideological period we're in. The press, the politicians, the commentators, are all committed to the interests of business, and anybody who isn't is seen as a loony or a lefty or beyond the pale.

Cinematical: What can we expect from you next? Fiction or documentary?

KL: I'm hoping to do a little documentary in the autumn, but time is running out.

Cinematical: What subject?

KL: Well, a continuation of this, on what's happened to the unions in over the last thirty years.