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My Name Is Joe (1998)

Courtesy of Sixteen Films

Main image of My Name Is Joe (1998)
35mm, colour, 105 mins
DirectorKen Loach
Production CompaniesParallax Pictures, Road Movies Vierte Produktionen
ProducerRebecca O'Brien
ScreenplayPaul Laverty
PhotographyBarry Ackroyd
MusicGeorge Fenton

Cast: Peter Mullan (Joe Kavanagh); Louise Goodall (Sarah Downie); David Mckay (Liam); Annemarie Kennedy (Sabine); Gary Lewis (Shanks)

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Joe is an unemployed recovering alcoholic in Glasgow, who runs a local football team. He meets Sarah, a health worker, and a relationship develops.

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As with many of Ken Loach's films, class and money are at the heart of My Name is Joe (1998). At the root of the narrative is the unlikelihood of the middle-class world - represented by Sarah (Louise Goodall) - ever fully understanding Joe's (Peter Mullan) working-class existence, as their relationship develops and falters. The inconclusive ending suggests a tentative acceptance of their differences but their chances for a future together are uncertain.

The source of the conflict in Joe and Sarah's relationship is the key to the narrative structure. Joe's loyalty to Liam (David McKay), largely a result of their shared background and class, means that he feels obliged to become involved in illegal drug dealing activities to help his mate out of debt. Sarah, who has seen the effect of drugs on the lives of kids through her job as a health worker, cannot accept this. In a key speech, Joe tells Sarah, "We don't all live in this nice tidy world of yours... Some of us can't just go to the bank for a loan. Some of us can't just move out of here... Some of us don't have a choice." This lack of choice, and the characters' struggles against their constraints is a central feature of much of Loach's work.

Loach has been criticised for putting speeches into his characters' mouths that simply reflect his own political views and are not realistic. However - given Peter Mullan's engaging, articulate performance as Joe, combined with the gradual building up of the social and economic circumstances of his world - Joe's speech summing up the gulf between himself and Sarah is entirely credible.

Like other Loach films, My Name is Joe has its comic moments. Despite the deprivation of the young men, many of them unemployed, there is camaraderie and banter, much of it revolving around the football team that Joe coaches. The unsuccessful football team mirrors the struggles of its players off the pitch. Their lack of funds means that the team has no matching strip, but when they pull off the theft of a Brazilian team strip and make an appearance in it, some of their aspirations are at least briefly met. Such brief moments of happiness snatched from unpromising circumstances are generally the most that Loach's characters can hope for.

Ros Cranston

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Video Clips
1. Joe's confession (4:09)
2. Sorting out debts (2:47)
3. The break-up (3:57)
Original poster
Production stills
Ae Fond Kiss (2004)
Carla's Song (1996)
Fenton, George (1950-)
Laverty, Paul (1957-)
Loach, Ken (1936-)
Morris, Jonathan (1949-)
Mullan, Peter (1959-)
O'Brien, Rebecca (1957-)
Smith, Roger
Ken Loach: Feature Films