Culture House Daily

Dick-swinging filmmakers like Ken Loach constantly write real women and our struggles out of history

2 June 2014

I hadn’t seen a Ken Loach film in years because I got sick of his schmaltzy sexism but yesterday decided to give him another try and popped along to see his latest, Jimmy’s Hall. Set in 1930s Ireland, it tells the true-life story of self-educated, community-serving James Gralton, who enraged the Catholic church and the local land owners by setting up a community centre that served as a meeting place for ideas and, God forbid, dancing.

Perhaps he’s returned to form, I thought on my way to the cinema, and produced something gutsy like Cathy Come Home or Kes. These story lines usually warm my cynical old heart, so I approached Jimmy’s Hall with a hopeful spring in my step. In truth, the only reason I decided to give Loach another chance is because it is set in County Leitrim, where my dog is from (anyone thinking this is a tenuous link please note that I am a middle-aged lesbian).

But Jimmy’s Bar is a load of old sexist shite, and having endured it to the end, I have to admit that Loach could not give a hoot about women. The two female characters in Jimmy’s Hall are a love interest – all fluttering eyelids and coy glances – and a classic Irish mammy, her apron-clad bosom heaving as she busies herself worrying about her sons and the consistency of her Irish stew. What hurts  most is that the mammy – played by first-timer Eileen Henry – was the best of the bunch, but, because she wasn’t there for her tits and ass, she was underused. Loach saves complexity for the character of nasty Father Sheridan, the priest who hates Jimmy.

Loach is a man of the people, but only people with a penis. Like me, he is a socialist, concerned with telling the story of working-class struggles. A posh boy, educated at grammar school and Oxford University, Loach proves that you don’t have to be born into poverty to decide to fight for the working class. He is, nevertheless, a classic example of the leftist dinosaur in the mould of Julian Assange, George Galloway and Tommy Sheridan.

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Recently Loach poured scorn on film critics, accusing them of being reluctant to ‘engage with stories that do not “fit their preconceptions” [of] working-class characters who deviate from stereotypes such as “thugs, drug dealers or whores . . . the victims of their predicament rather than architects of its change”’. What about the lazy, sentimental portrayal of the role of women in his films, largely there to fuck and cook?

Female characters such as Oonagh, Jimmy’s childhood sweetheart, are always in some type of heterosexual confinement, with a man hanging around to define them. Loach appears not to know gay people exist.

In 2011 Loach told The Guardian about his work being censored for political reasons: ‘It makes you angry, not on your own behalf, but on behalf of the people whose voices weren’t allowed to be heard.’ As a feminist I know what Loach means, he and other dick-swinging filmmakers constantly write real women and our struggles out of history.

By the way, not once during the entire film – set, remember, in the Republic of Ireland – with the greenest mise en scène I’ve ever seen, did it rain. This, along with his one-dimensional female characters, helped to make Jimmy’s Hall the most unrealistic of Loach’s career.

Give me Tarantino any day.

Follow Julie Bindel on Twitter @bindelj

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Show comments
  • Patrick O’Neill


  • axolotlltoloxa

    well if youd seen his recent movies as yknow, research, youd see that he made bread and roses, about 2 women leading a cleaning workers strike inLA.

    I understand his next novie is about the struggle of researchers to be properly paid and credited by celeb radical feminist authors

  • GraveDave

    Whinge -whinge-whinge….whinge – whinge – whinge…What’s stopping you feminists and lesbians from writing your own scripts and shooting your own films.
    Then you can put men down as much as you like.

  • Al

    Julie, not everything is about gender. Please change the record.

    • Marie Louise Noonan

      I guess if one is a hammer…

      • Al

        …I’d hammer in the morning.

  • Daviejohn

    I am not a fan of Loach but my God Lady what a boring piece this is, self indulgent rubbish.

    • GraveDave

      I did like Poor Cow.

  • sarahsmith232

    Brilliant. Would love to see a lot more of this kind of writing in the Spec’. Spot on, as well.

  • Terry Field

    Loach’s problem is that he is a polemicist.
    Polemicists are tedious, boring, limited by their preconceptions.
    Add a lack of taste, and there you have it.

    • Kitty MLB

      Well Lefties have absolutely no taste and are without the
      slightest spark of originality, thats another reason why
      they like this mediocre person.

  • Alison

    I know that some cinemas provide special seats designed especially for getting off with your partner on/in, but surely when you went to watch this film as a potential critic, even if you did not have a specific commission to write about the film, you took your mind to see the film. Your mind may have gender and sexuality, but predominantly that is a body thing. If you regard yourself always as a body with specific gender and sexuality and not as a brilliant mind that evaluates ideas, how can you at the same time criticise dinosaurs like Ken Loach for doing this? He sees human beings who happen to be female as breasts, vaginas, pretty faces, or working class hard faced mother stereotypes. You want him to include another kind of body stereotype, the lesbian woman, or the gay man. But these body centred identities are not themselves interesting. Human beings are interesting because of their minds, films are interesting because the characters in them have interesting minds. We may be more inclined to watch them if the characters also have interesting bodies, but that is insufficient to make a decent film. I have no fondness for this film maker, but you are simply working to his rules only wanting to tinker with some of the details.

  • Paul Evans

    Julie Bindel is one of the reasons I stopped reading The Guardian. Now I find her here as well.

  • Marie Louise Noonan

    Do people expect to see themselves reflected in every film they see? Is this a symptom of ‘The Attack of Identity Politics’?

    Off to read some ‘Julius Caesar’.

  • Picquet

    This critique would have been more appropriately published in the Gay Times. An interesting viewpoint, possibly, if you’re a socialist homosexual, but I suspect there aren’t too many of them reading this.

  • heather harvey

    i know it’s sacrilege to criticise mr loach but she’s right about this film and that’s even trying to give him his due!

    • Fergus Pickering

      Loach’s films are ALL crap. He is a talentless tub-thumper always ready to take the easy, sentimental way out.

      • Kitty MLB

        Fergus, dear chap. They are monotonous, lazy and predictable. Once
        saw Loach’s name on a list for the best film makers. Yet they forgot
        to add. Alfred Hitchcock, Peter Greenway and Peter Ustinov.
        I also believe Loach is somewhat anti English and there was all that
        stuff with the IRA.

  • Ted Cunterblast

    he and other dick-swinging filmmakers constantly write real women and our struggles out of history

    Well surely that’s because women’s experiences have on the whole been far less interesting and world-changing.

  • Harriet Wistrich

    Bindel is right – quite sharp and to the point, but Loach really does need to get his act together in terms of his portrayals of women. And she is very funny

  • Frank

    Loach censored??? More like edited because so much of his work is extremely boring.

  • Godfather2

    Male film makers and male television programme makers on the telly – show more and more macho male culture. Constantly rubbing out women’s real experiences and celebrating male aggressive macho characters – is not only annoying – it is damaging for all of us. It really is about time women were visible – with positive images of women’s strength and courage. This should be in all areas of life – pity Loach again forget to include us. We are here and do exist and we are shouting to be heard. This sort of article needs to be in The Spectator!

  • pcmcgurk

    Was she paid for this?

  • MrsDBliss


  • Kitty MLB

    What utter rubbish, all of it.
    But I’ll say why does everyone want to fight for the working classes.What about the nice, quiet middle classes who
    just go about their lives and pay their taxes to help everyone
    else and never get any thanks

    • Damon

      And one might add – what about industrious, working-class people who happen to despise socialism? And also pay their taxes, by the way.

  • montyscoles

    This crude, mindless rubbish doesn’t belong in The Spectator.

    • GUBU

      Are you referring to Mr Loach’s film or Ms Bindel’s rather bracing critique of it?

      Either way, you’re spot on.

    • The Masked Marvel

      Just how many socialists are writing for The Spectator these days?

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