If only all birthdays were like this. September marks the start of a two-month tribute to revered British filmmaker Ken Loach. Held at the British Film Institute Southbank complex in London in honour of his recent 75th birthday, and stretching from 1965's Up The Junction to last year's Route Irish, the institute is proclaiming it to be the most comprehensive retrospective of Loach's work ever staged. And, given the programme launches with a never-before-screened work, that seems to be the case.
The film in question is a 1969 effort Loach made for Save the Children as part of the charity's 50th anniversary. Intended for broadcast on Britain's London Weekend Television, Loach's piece explored race, class and charity in England and Kenya. Save the Children was less than impressed, feeling the work subverted its aims, so Loach and his producer Tony Garnett refused to hand over the negative.
The film was never aired. After a court battle, the film was sent to the BFI National Archive on condition that it could only be screened with written approval from Save the Children. Forty years on, the charity has finally relented. New CEO Justin Forsyth says he is pleased that his organisation is belatedly allowing the film to be shown. 'It raises important questions about power, colonialism and charity that are still relevant today,' he says.
There is a chance to gorge on Loach's extensive back catalogue, including such rarely screened gems as his 1979 children's tale Black Jack and his dramatisation of the Barry Hines novel The Gamekeeper. True Loach enthusiasts will be delighted by such BBC epics as 1975's Days of Hope, a seven-hour, four-film series spanning the first world war to the general strike in 1926, and 1977's The Price of Coal, a two-part film set around a royal visit to a mine.
Loach is in post-production on his latest film, The Angels' Share, a drama set in a whisky factory, and has made a remarkable 16 films in the past 21 years. Yet the retrospective ignores his preceding fallow period in the 1980s. This means missing out 1986's Fatherland and a sprinkling of documentaries, which is a shame but does underline just how Loach fell from favour.
Since 1990 and teaming up with such regular collaborators as screenwriter Paul Laverty, Loach's status as one of Europe's premier directors has risen inexorably. Both Hidden Agenda and Raining Stones took the jury prize at Cannes, before his IRA drama The Wind that Shakes the Barley claimed the festival's Palme d'Or (along with enormous amounts of flak from the British press). As one critic noted, Loach is a national treasure - albeit one that the nation that produced him is not always keen to treasure. That looks finally to have changed.