Ken Loach docu-drama about a British woman's fight with Social Services over the care of her children.
In Europe, Ken Loach has a reputation as one of the UK's leading filmmakers, whereas in Blighty he is still sometimes seen as a jumped-up TV director. Ladybird Ladybird completes the loose trilogy of politically aware social dramas begun by Riff Raff and Raining Stones: more domestic in its scope than those earlier films but sharing their raw, in-your-face aesthetic, it tells the story of Maggie (Rock), a blowsy mother of four young lads who attempts to retain a measure of dignity in her dealings with the social services.
Explicitly harking back to Loach's celebrated family drama Cathy Come Home, this is apparently based on a true story. Sympathetically scripted by Casualty regular Rona Munro, it makes a point of presenting Maggie neither as a victim nor a case history, but as a woman trying to make the best of life on a low income. Out at the pub one night she meets a Latin-American refugee, Jorge (Vega), and shacks up with him. Flashbacks tell the painful details of her past - domestic violence, nicotine addiction, the taking of her children into care - while the future is shaped by a punitive social services department which refuses to believe Maggie has changed and literally cradle-snatches the two children she and Jorge have together.
Despite a brave and honest performance from professional newcomer Crissy Rock, this is not as accomplished as Loach's last two films. The blistering black comedy has gone, replaced by a humour which is gentler and more rounded. The film is also unbalanced, with Jorge barely sketched as a character, while his problems with the immigration department take second place to Maggie's own. Compensating for this, however, is Munro's fine ear for dialogue, with the film working best in those scenes where the precision-tooled language of officialdom is used to crush Maggie's blueberry outbursts.
Impressive because Loach keeps things simple in an accurate social study.