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Ladybird Ladybird (1994)

Courtesy of Channel Four Television

Main image of Ladybird Ladybird (1994)
35mm, 102 minutes, colour
DirectorKen Loach
Production CompanyChannel Four Television
 Parallax Pictures
ProducerSally Hibbin
ScreenplayRona Munro
Director of PhotographyBarry Ackroyd
EditorJonathan Morris
MusicGeorge Fenton

Cast: Chrissy Rock (Maggie); Vladimir Vega (Jorge); Sandie Lavelle (Mairead); Mauricio Venegas (Adrian); Ray Winstone (Simon); Clare Perkins (Jill)

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Liverpudlian-born mother of four Maggie begins an affair with a Paraguayan refugee. Jorge offers welcome stability for Maggie after a series of abusive relationships and the repeated removal of her children by social services. But when she becomes pregnant again, the social services once again intervene.

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Ladybird Ladybird) is based on the real-life case of a woman who grew out of a childhood of abuse and into a classic vicious circle of cruel relationships. It is melodramatic stuff, potentially. But Ken Loach and his screenwriter Rona Munro offered up a bracing, unsentimental portrayal of a woman on the edge: one that sees her side of the story, but doesn't always take it unconditionally.

By her mid-thirties, Maggie has had four children by four different fathers, a brood that she is patently ill-equipped to care for. Following an act of great irresponsibility, she has them taken away from her. At this low point in her life, she meets a man who seems different: Jorge, a gentle political refugee from Paraguay who is drawn to her warmth and spirit. However, breaking with her past, fending off the social services and above all breaking her own ingrained patterns of aggressive and destructive behaviour prove far more difficult than Maggie had bargained for.

The heart of Ladybird Ladybird is the blisteringly fierce and naked central performance by Crissy Rock, a stand-up comic who had never acted before. Loach has worked with male comedians with great success, notably in Riff-Raff (1991) and The Navigators (2001). Ladybird Ladybird lacks those two films' seams of mordant humour, and its unrelentingly black emotional pitch makes for difficult viewing. But there's no denying Rock's powerful portrayal of a woman whose defects are glaring, but also understandable, even forgivable. She was named Best Actress at the 1994 Berlin Film Festival and went on to a career in television, most recently in a regular role in the award-winning comedy series Benidorm (ITV, 2007-11).

Munro's screenplay predates Loach's subsequent long collaboration with Paul Laverty, but presages the strong Latin American flavour which that writer was to bring to the director's work. It also harks back to 'Cathy Come Home' (BBC, tx. 16/11/1966), Loach's breakthrough film for The Wednesday Play anthology series (1964-70) about a young woman threatened by homelessness and the constant intervention of social workers.

There are affinities, too, with the work of Andrea Dunbar, whose raw, angry plays set in Britain's underclass attracted acclaim throughout the 1980s: two of them were conflated into Rita, Sue and Bob Too (d. Alan Clarke, 1986).

Sheila Johnston

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Video Clips
Production stills
Ae Fond Kiss (2004)
Carla's Song (1996)
Cathy Come Home (1966)
Ackroyd, Barry (1954-)
Fenton, George (1950-)
Hibbin, Sally (1953-)
Loach, Ken (1936-)
Morris, Jonathan (1949-)
O'Brien, Rebecca (1957-)
Winstone, Ray (1957-)
Ken Loach: Feature Films