Riff-Raff (1991)

Robert Carlyle and Ricky Tomlinson star in Ken Loach’s tragicomedy set on a London building site.

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“Sadly, Bill Jesse died without seeing the finished film, but this is as good an epitaph as he could have hoped for.”

Ken Loach’s raucous tale of the camaraderie among London labourers was both scripted (Bill Jesse) and performed (Robert Carlyle, Ricky Tomlinson) by people with direct experience of the building trade. The film was a milestone for Loach, inaugurating both the late flowering of his career – from then on he’d be one of Britain’s most prolific feature directors – and introduced now-familiar working methods such as withholding scripts from actors so that their surprise at unexpected events is authentic.

The central storyline about the relationship between an itinerant Glaswegian (Carlyle) and a would-be singer (Emer McCourt) is a convenient dramatic foreground for a beautifully observed and often very funny study of working-class solidarity in the face of remote and unsympathetic management.

Ken Loach would work with Robert Carlyle again in Carla’s Song, in which the latter starred as a Glaswegian bus driver who falls in love with a Nicaraguan exile.

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