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It's a Free World... (2007)

Courtesy of Channel Four Television and Sixteen Films

Main image of It's a Free World... (2007)
35mm, 95 minutes, colour
DirectorKen Loach
Production CompanySixteen Films
In Association WithChannel Four Television
Produced byRebecca O'Brien
ScreenplayPaul Laverty
PhotographyNigel Willoughby
EditorJonathan Morris
MusicGeorge Fenton

Cast: Kierston Wareing (Angie); Juliet Ellis (Rose); Leslaw Zurek (Karol); Joe Siffleet (Jamie); Colin Coughlin (Geoff); Maggie Hussey (Cathy); Davoud Rastgou (Mahmoud)

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After losing her recruitment agency job, Angie sets up in business with her flatmate Rose. With immigrants desperate to work, the opportunities are considerable for two girls in tune with the times. However, the line between fairness and exploitation is a narrow one.

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Following the Palme d'Or-winning The Wind That Shakes the Barley (2006), Sixteen Films - the production company set up by Ken Loach, producer Rebecca O'Brien and writer Paul Laverty - went into production on It's A Free World.... Where The Wind... was historical and epic in scale, the new film, initially titled 'These Times', was more contained and determinedly contemporary, taking as its subject the pre-2008 economic boom in the UK and the accompanying changes to working culture. It was financed by Channel 4 and released theatrically abroad but aired on television in the UK to reach the widest possible domestic audience.

The film represents street-level modern capitalism in the figure of Angie (BAFTA-nominated Keirston Wareing), an aspiring young businesswoman who is charming and personable but behaves appallingly. Partnering with Rose, her more cautious flatmate, Angie sets up a recruitment agency using the contacts she has acquired over her chequered career.

Angie is, at first, fun, smart and honest, but her ambition ultimately drives out these qualities. Seeing herself as a self-improving go-getter, she refuses to recognise the effects of her actions until she reaches the point where she no longer cares. The film seems to respect Angie's drive - we see her bounce back after she unfairly loses her job - but shows that her steely determination and her willingness to cut corners leads only to selfishness and the exploitation of others. It also makes clear that Angie's hard-nosed attitude can be self-defeating. With few home comforts, embattled personal relationships and, ultimately, her family at risk, Angie's endeavours bring her little happiness.

Angie performs one action that is not motivated by personal gain when, apparently out of genuine sympathy, she finds accommodation and work for Mahmoud, an illegal Iranian refugee. But even here, her behaviour is contradictory: she later sacrifices her altruistic impulse to the demands of business when she reports Mahmoud's home to the Immigration Service. The film's anger at the contemporary cultural fascination with individualist gain is at its most forceful in this damning incident.

In an age when television shows such as The Apprentice (BBC, 2005-), The Secret Millionaire (Channel 4, 2006-) and Dragon's Den (BBC, 2005-) assert the enabling power of entrepreneurialism, It's A Free World..., offers a contrarian view, exposing the cruel fate of an anonymous underclass that is the inevitable victim of the same culture's veneration of individual profit.

Dylan Cave

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Video Clips
1. Angie the entrepreneur (3:39)
2. Work and family (1:40)
3. Hostages (6:20)
Production stills
Fenton, George (1950-)
Laverty, Paul (1957-)
Loach, Ken (1936-)
Morris, Jonathan (1949-)
O'Brien, Rebecca (1957-)
Ken Loach: Feature Films