Cannes winner Loach returns to Scotland to put the focus on gangmasters

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JUST days after winning one of cinema's top prizes, controversial director Ken Loach is turning his attention to gangmasters for his next film, which will shoot in Scotland this autumn.

Loach won the Palme d'Or last weekend at the Cannes Film Festival for The Wind that Shakes the Barley, a drama about the early days of the IRA which some critics have accused of being anti-British.

He is lionised in Europe but expects his latest film to open in 10 times as many cinemas in France than in Britain. He said that British cinemas were "in the pockets" of the big American film companies.

Loach and his producer Rebecca O'Brien were reluctant to give much away about their next film except to say it is called These Times, a "contemporary drama" which will be shot in Scotland and the London area.

Loach has made several films in Scotland in recent years, repeatedly collaborating with Paul Laverty, a scriptwriter from Glasgow.

O'Brien said: "We are really wanting to keep quite quiet about it at the moment."

Asked it if it was likely to be controversial, she added: "Look at the rest of our films and you can decide from that."

But Scotland on Sunday can reveal that it will tackle the topical subjects of gangmasters and the international exploitation of untrained workers.

Details of the film inadvertently appeared last week in a section of the website for Loach's company Sixteen Films, named after Sweet Sixteen, the film in which Martin Compston made his debut four years ago.

Loach's latest protagonist is a young woman, reviving memories of Cathy Come Home, a television drama that had a huge impact on British audiences and attitudes 40 years ago.

The story of a young, homeless mother and the inflexibility of the British welfare system, it was broadcast just days before the launch of the homeless charity Shelter.

These Times is intended as a snapshot of British society four decades on, with the young heroine Angie caught up in a world where she feels exploited. "Angie works in a twilight zone between gangmasters and employment agencies," the Sixteen Films website said before the entry was taken out. "This is a tale set against the background of the dynamic Anglo Saxon miracle of flexible labour, globalisation, double shifts and lots of happy, happy, happy consumers: Us."

The site added: "Angie has little formal education, but has three vital ingredients surging through her bloodstream; energy, wit, and ambition. She's tired of being pissed around. She has a point to prove to all those who know her."

Loach has backing from FilmFour and These Times will be broadcast on Channel 4 at the same time as it is released in British cinemas. The move is almost unprecedented in an industry where the gap between cinema release and broadcast has traditionally been measured in years.

"It happened with Road to Guantanamo [Michael Winterbottom's docu-drama]," said Loach. "Guantanamo worked very well, so it's an interesting route to follow.

"Our main audience is in Europe, in France and Italy. There it will be a film. But just in Britain it's always a huge problem to get into mainstream cinemas. So, rather than have this endless battle, we thought we might do it all in one go."

Following the success of The Wind that Shakes the Barley at Cannes, the French distributors have amended their plans and it will open in 300 cinemas instead of the intended 120, Loach said. But there is no suggestion of any radical rethink for the British release.

"Here we may only get 30 or 40," he added. "If it hasn't got an American accent, or it's not like the American view of the British, the multiplexes aren't very keen.

"It's not a level playing field. It's not on the basis of whether the film is good or not. It's on the basis of their trade agreements or the fact that they are in the pockets of the big American industrial producers."