It's a Free World



Venice International Film Festival

VENICE, Italy -- Few countries have a handle on matters of immigration, but a combination of free market profit-seeking and nanny-state regulations has resulted in a singular mess in Great Britain, as Ken Loach illustrates in his tough-minded slice of life picture "It's a Free World."

The ironically-titled movie, screened in competition at the Venice International Film Festival, focuses on a spirited young English woman who becomes inured to the fate of immigrants while working for a big recruiting agency. Battered by her own work experience, she starts up a new agency, but the opportunity to make big money by exploiting the desperate and vulnerable leads to corruption and violence.

Loach is in excellent form making the most of a shrewd screenplay by Paul Laverty and drawing a winning performance from newcomer Kierston Wareing as a brassy but misguided entrepreneur. The film should play well when it is telecast on Channel 4 in the U.K., and prospects are bright for its theatrical release elsewhere, not least because the dilemma it profiles is universal.

Cinematographer Nigel Willoughby and editor Jonathan Morris contribute much to the film's brisk energy while composer George Fenton's score, using alto sax and viola to great effect, illuminates its changing moods.

Immigrants enter the U.K. from all over the world, legally and illegally, and many of them are at the mercy of recruitment agencies that, if not entirely criminal, have dubious credentials. At one of them, Angie (Wareing) has a knack for placing workers into jobs but gets no respect from her male coworkers, who mostly see her as sexual fodder.

When complaining gets her fired, Angie convinces roommate Rose (Juliet Ellis), a college graduate who works at a call center, that they should go into business for themselves. Angie has a way with men, so she makes the rounds drumming up business while Rose works the phone and the Internet.

No matter how well educated people may be in their home countries, qualifications are irrelevant and the only work available is drudgery. Angie and Rose make contracts with builders, caterers, packagers, and others, for a given number of workers. Then they contract with the immigrants and send them jammed into vans for a day's work.

The film provides an urgent snapshot of one small part of a big problem, and offers a memorably tragic character in Angie. She goes nose-to-nose with tough-guy employers and fights for every inch of her place in the world. But she can't keep a relationship with a smart and caring Polish man (Leslaw Zurek), and the more things get out of hand the more callous she becomes and the more willing to flout the law.


And while chasing her materialistic goals, she is a single mother whose son Jamie (Joe Siffleet) is in trouble at school and whose father, Geoff (Colin Coughlin) is a retiree who recalls when working people were paid more respect.

That's a time that has little place in the world sketched by Loach and Laverty. They offer no answers in this vivid and troublesome film, but then there probably aren't any.

Pathe Distribution
Sixteen Films, Film4

Director: Ken Loach
Writer: Paul Laverty
Producer: Rebecca O'Brien
Executive producer: Ulrich Felsberg
Director of photography: Nigel Willoughby
Production designer: Fergus Clegg
Music: George Fenton
Costume designer: Carole K. Fraser
Editor: Jonathan Morris

Angie: Kierston Wareing
Rose: Juliet Ellis
Karol: Leslaw Zurek
Jamie: Joe Siffleet
Geoff: Colin Coughlin
Cathy: Maggie Hussey
Andy: Raymond Mearns
Mahmoud: Davoud Rastgau
Mahmoud's wife: Mahin Aminnia
Children: Shadeh and Sheeva Kavousian
Derek: Frank Gilhooley
Tony: David Doyle
Company directors: Eddie Webber, Johnny Palmiero
Angry worker: Faruk Pruti
Headmistress: Jackie Robinson Brown
Attacker: Miro Somers
Care team: Neal Barry, Mick Connolly, Sian Wheldon
Polish translator: Malgorzata Zawadzka
Ukrainian translators: Marina Chykalovets, Oksana Gayvas
Motorbike riders: Abbi Collins, Julie Maynard

No MPAA rating, running time 93 minutes