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Navigators, The (2001)

Courtesy of Channel 4 Television

Main image of Navigators, The (2001)
Super 16, colour, 96 mins
DirectorKen Loach
Presented byParallax Pictures, Road Movies Filmproduktion GmbH, Tornasol Films, Alta Films
ProducerRebecca O'Brien
ScreenplayRob Dawber
PhotographyMike Eley
MusicGeorge Fenton

Cast: Dean Andrews (John); Tom Craig (Mick); Joe Duttine (Paul); Steve Huison (Jim); Venn Tracey (Gerry); Sean Glenn (Harpic); Andy Swallow (Len); Charlie Brown (Jack); Juliet Bates (Fiona)

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A group of railway workers, based at a depot in Yorkshire, face the privatisation of British Rail and its devastating consequences.

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The Navigators (2001) was highly topical in its subject matter - filming began days before a major train crash at Hatfield in Hertfordshire which strikingly mirrored the film's script. A significant factor in the crash was believed to be poor attention to safety by privatised rail companies.

Characteristically, director Ken Loach highlights the solidarity and sense of humour of a group of working men facing some of the harsher consequences of capitalism - in this case the effects of privatisation. The film's scriptwriter, Rob Dawber, worked on the railways for many years. He died while the film was being edited, from cancer caused by exposure to asbestos while working on the tracks.

Dawber's naturalistic script was filmed in an apparently simple, observational style that comes close to documentary. As in much of Loach's work, there is a cast of largely unfamiliar faces, which helps to enhance the film's authentic feel.

Loach has made documentary films on other industrial workers, notably miners and dockworkers, and The Navigators dramatises a dilemma similar to those faced by the miners and dockers in the 1980s and 1990s - whether to hold out for an uncertain future or to accept redundancy payments and effectively 'sell their jobs' and those of future generations, as Loach sees it. When Paul (Joe Duttine) needs money to support his kids he impulsively decides to take the redundancy money. One of his workmates challenges him: "I think you're playing right into their bloody hands, they're putting us in a position where we've got no choice." Paul retorts: "Exactly, we've got no choice," summing up a recurring theme in Loach's work - that the lives of the working-class are dominated by economic forces outside their control.

Increasingly throughout his career, Loach's films have been more widely admired in other European countries than in the UK, notably Spain, France and Italy, where the dominance of Hollywood is less complete. The Navigators had a very limited cinema release in the UK, mainly in Sheffield. Shortly afterwards it was shown on television. In contrast, the film was released theatrically in other countries, doing particularly well in Italy.

Ros Cranston

*This film is available on BFI DVD.

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Video Clips
1. Briefing session (4:26)
2. Unemployed (2:42)
2. Unwanted gift (1:33)
Production stills
Enginemen (1959)
Price Of Coal, The (1977)
Fenton, George (1950-)
Hines, Barry (1939- )
Loach, Ken (1936-)
Morris, Jonathan (1949-)
Channel 4 and Film
Ken Loach: Feature Films