Wednesday, November 15, 2006

The Navigators

2001, UK/Germany/Spain, directed by Ken Loach

Rating: ***
The Navigators is Ken Loach's largely successful attempt to provide a sense of the human losses created by the privatisation of British Rail in the mid-1990's, focusing on the workers in one small Yorkshire maintenance depot as they deal with new market realities in the post-Thatcher era. Although the film slips occasionally into didacticism for the most part it has the authentic feel of the trackside, with convincingly salty banter from the generally solid acting crew. Loach's sense of the destruction of craftsmanship and skill in the new economic circumstances is acute, and quite moving, while there's real anger in his portrait of the means by which, increasingly, the costs of employing people are being passed on to workers themselves rather than being assumed by the employer. Loach does tend on occasion to reveal his own class prejudices, with the salt-of-the-earth working men contrasted somewhat heavy-handedly with the out-and-out misbehaviour of senior management; like his fellow Englishman, Loach isn't skilled at rounded portraits of even the middle classes. The final plot developments are telegraphed rather obviously earlier in the film - and are a bit too rigorously deterministic - but the point about the disastrous consequences of rail privatisation on every level is well-taken - and underlined too frequently by British newspaper headlines.

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Boston, Massachusetts, United States