British film-maker Kenneth Loach is best known for his compassionate portrayal of the British working-class. Right from the 1960’s (“Kes”) he’s been making movies about poverty in a Neo-realist style. With his low-key film-making style, Loach has influenced a generation of film-makers like Neil Jordan, Stephen Frears, Mike Leigh, Dardenne Brothers etc. “Raining Stones” (1993), a strong addition to Loach’s oeuvre, offers a bittersweet portrayal of proletariat family struggling against the recession in Northern England. The film’s title is an expression that offers a sympathetic view of the underclass, as one character in the film states, “When you are a worker, it rains stones seven days a week”.
The movie starts in a comical fashion as Bob Williams (BruceJones) and Tommy (Ricky Tomlinson) try to rustle a sheep to sell it to the local butcher shop. Both these middle-aged guys’ families are barely making end meet. Bob is an unemployed plumber who roams around social service offices and carries home assistance vouchers to put food on the table. Religion (Catholicism) offers Bob and his wife Anne (Julie Brown) hope, but lately that too has become source of a problem. Bob and Anne’s seven year old daughter Coleen (Gemma Phoenix) will be soon celebrating her first communion. And as per the custom, the little girls undergoing this rite need to wear a pretty, expensive dress.
Bob doesn’t even have a quid to pay the gas and electric bills, although he promises his daughter that he will buy a beautiful, new dress. He and his buddy Tommy plan various schemes to earn a few quick pounds. But, misfortune follows him as his van gets nicked. He goes door to door offering to fix faulty drains, but gets covered up in excrement, cleaning out the toilet of local Catholic Church, and that too for no payment. He becomes a bouncer in a local pub, only to get bounced in his first day work. To make matters worse, Bob also borrows from a loan company and gets embroiled with a dangerous loan shark.
Director Loach and script writer Jim Allen finds the perfect balance between comedy and tragedy. In the opening scene, we see the primary characters repeatedly fail to catch a sheep, and towards the end we see a loan shark threatening Coleen and Anne. One is played to a comic effect and the other is shockingly menacing. These polar opposite scenes makes an equal impact on us because of the three-dimensional characterization and dialogues. When Bob goes to buy an old van, the owner insists that the van had only one owner previously. To which, Tommy cracks up, “Who was it? Ben-Hur?” The unforced comedy in such painful situations prevents the movie from being bleak or pessimistic. At the same time, Loach and Allen never chucks the painful reality to get some more laughs.
Loach and Allen also create a sense of realism for every character in the movie. When Bob goes to social services office, we hear the struggles of a single mother in bringing up her children. It’s a character that’s there on-screen for few seconds, but it’s conveyed with a sense of realism. Director Loach has expressed his political views less explicitly than his other works. Jimmy (Mike Fallon), Bob’s father-in-law, working in the Tenants’ Association office, is the only overtly political character. Jimmy highlights how their society is affected by crime, booze, and drugs. He states that religion is only a distraction as it doesn’t allow people to get-together to make real changes. These words express the Loach’s view towards the Capitalist system and religion. Nevertheless, Loach has approached religion in a more ambivalent manner. Father Barry (Tom Hickey), who plays a significant role at the plot’s decisive point, has been portrayed in a sympathetic manner. In fact, by making the priest condemn at the social forces that result in hardships, Loach attests that religion could support communities. Even the lawmen, who never find themselves to help under class people shows up at the door of Bob, bringing some good news.
Ken Loach may be little uncertain about religion’s value in the society, but he is very clear about his views on conservatism. In one of the comical scenes, Bob and Tommy steal turf off the lawn of a Conservative Social Club. It’s like a rare moment where the Conservatives denote the working class establishment. Barry Ackroyd’s naturalistic, grainy cinematography keeps up with the movie’s mood and setting. The cast is full of little-known actors, who all have given a remarkable performance. Bruce Jones as the rumpled protagonist imbues the much-needed hope into the proceedings. Julie Brown showcases her characters’ frustration and anger without ever playing like a victim. Jonathan James is so terrifying as the thug Tansey (it’s hard to believe that this guy is a comedian in real life). If you had to point-out one problem with the film, it’s the thick Manchester accent, which makes it difficult to entirely catch what’s being said (even with the use of subtitles).
Ken Loach’s “Raining Stones” (88 minutes) is one of the overlooked works in the British kitchen-sink sub-genre. It stays away from being dogmatic and offers humor even in the most despairing situations.