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Looking for Eric (2009)

Courtesy of Sixteen Films

Main image of Looking for Eric (2009)
35mm, 116 minutes, colour
DirectorKen Loach
Production CompanyCanto Bros
 Sixteen Films
ProducerRebecca O'Brien
ScreenplayPaul Laverty
PhotographyBarry Ackroyd
EditorJonathan Morris
MusicGeorge Fenton

Cast: Steve Evets (Eric Bishop); Eric Cantona (lui-même); John Henshaw (Meatballs); Stephanie Bishop (Lily); Gerard Kearns (Ryan Bishop)

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Postman Eric Bishop's life is out of control. His stepsons are in trouble with the law, his house is a mess and he is about to lose the love of his life forever. But then Eric Cantona appears in his bedroom and starts to turn his life around...

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Eyebrows were raised when the premise behind Looking for Eric was first announced to the film trade press. A ghostly buddy movie co-starring a global football celebrity as himself, directed by Ken Loach? Clearly Loach's Palme d'Or for The Wind that Shakes the Barley (2006) must have gone to his head. And yet the director's hand is instantly recognisable - indeed, in many respects the film is a compilation of his favourite subjects.

Looking for Eric treats postmen such as Eric Bishop with the same sympathy as the builders in Riff-Raff (1991) and the railwaymen in The Navigators (2001). After Bishop comes close to a total breakdown, his colleagues stage a full-blown therapy session that ranks alongside the football match in Kes (1969) as the funniest scene in any Ken Loach film. An impassioned pub argument about American financial exploitation of Manchester United recalls the collective ownership debate in Land and Freedom (1995), and the way that naïve teenagers are exploited by ruthless gangsters echoes Sweet Sixteen (2002), while Bishop himself resembles Bob in Raining Stones (1993): an essentially good man out of his depth.

But this well-trodden territory is given an unfamiliar spin when Bishop hallucinates the appearance of football legend Eric Cantona in his bedroom. Played, according to the credits, by 'lui-même', Cantona acts as Bishop's guardian angel, offering him relationship advice and delivering gnomic proverbs. It was Cantona himself who conceived the idea of acting in a Loach film, as he'd been a keen devotee for years (Loach has always had a much bigger following in France than in his native country). Cantona's original proposal that Loach dramatise a real-life relationship with an obsessed fan fell through, but screenwriter Paul Laverty devised a supernaturally-tinged alternative after Cantona declared himself willing to send himself up.

Amusing though Cantona's appearances usually are (his wobbly trumpet performance of 'La Marseillaise' is a particular highlight), he turns serious when he tells Bishop that his career would have got nowhere without dedicated teamwork. This theme, a Loach perennial, is threaded throughout the film until a climax so visually memorable as to be almost surreal. Looking for Eric was widely tipped to become Loach's first genuine box-office hit since Kes, but in the event the film performed disappointingly - partly, box-office receipts implied, because of the intense hostility to Manchester United in a number of British cities. Clearly, teamwork can only stretch so far.

Michael Brooke

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Video Clips
Production stills
Ackroyd, Barry (1954-)
Laverty, Paul (1957-)
Loach, Ken (1936-)
Morris, Jonathan (1949-)
O'Brien, Rebecca (1957-)
Smith, Roger
Ken Loach: Feature Films
Ken Loach: The Controversies