Movies · News

Yann Demange Wants to Adapt Ken Loach for America

Which of Loach’s politically-charged movies should the ‘White Boy Rick’ director turn into a female-led, Americanized genre film?
By  · Published on September 10th, 2018

Four years have passed since Yann Demange‘s gripping, frenetic debut feature ’71 quickly established him as a promising director to look out for. He’s enough of a rising star to become a fan favorite to take over Danny Boyle’s directorial post on the next James Bond. Yet away from the possibilities of speculation, Demange is actually busy finally unveiling his sophomore effort, White Boy Rick, to the world. However, the emerging British filmmaker has revealed that he already has another movie in development, and this one is particularly ambitious.

Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter while promoting White Boy Rick at the Toronto International Film Festival, Demange announced a fascinating proposition: an “exciting” genre film version of a Ken Loach movie, set in the United States, with a woman in the lead role. Evidently, Demange is embracing his newfound transatlantic career to the fullest by attempting to translate the work of one of Britain’s most quintessential directors into a modern, politically-driven, and Americanized context.

Loach reportedly approves of the potential adaptation, although that’s the extent to which the famed filmmaker will actually be involved in the production. Instead, Demange will team up with the Paris-based company Why Not Productions, which has been responsible for five Loach movies to date.

According to Demange, his Loach adaptation will retain strong thematic links to its source material. As he tells THR:

“We’re going to be true to the politics of the film, but we’re turning it into a very exciting genre movie with a great female lead. […] It’s a UK film and we’re taking it to America, because the politics are pertinent to what’s going on.”

Particularly, Demange has taken inspiration from Jacques Audiard’s The Beat That My Heart Skipped, the French remake of the 1978 American drama Fingers. The basic plot beats remain the same in both films, but they certainly differ in execution. Where machismo and hyperviolence created the distressing ’70s era character study of Fingers, The Beat That My Heart Skipped updates it into a more polished and mature 21st-century Parisian perspective on identity crises.

Regardless, despite the fact that we’ve gotten a taste of Demange’s modus operandi — both from his TIFF comments and the distinctive array of filmmaking skill he’s showcased in ’71 — we don’t yet know exactly which film of Loach’s lengthy and varied oeuvre will be receiving the adaptation treatment. Notably, THR suggests that one of Loach’s most famous movies, Kes, is already out of the running given the parameters laid out in Demange’s interview.

By and large, many of Loach’s works sport a good amount of social commentary that would be aptly suited for an American remake, though. The promise of direct thematic applicability may rule out more specific historical war films such as The Wind That Shakes the Barley. Nevertheless, Loach’s social realist pictures are otherwise mostly fair game, especially those that also provide wider intersections of political engagement alongside their tight-knit character studies.

If Demange is going for some classic Loach, Riff-Raff is ripe for adaptation. The film follows the life of Stevie (Robert Carlyle), a Glaswegian ex-con who works as a construction worker in London in an attempt to make ends meet. With its uncanny naturalism and impeccable balance of comedy and drama, Riff-Raff tells a frank story of the working class affected by Thatcherism. This inherent collusion in politics and the interests of the everyman is certainly a modern-day concern during the Trump administration, and a remake of Riff-Raff would make a vital statement. Transposing Riff-Raff into a genre film could be tricky, given that the original film’s commitment to real life begets some degree of genre mashup. Nevertheless, it wouldn’t be a stretch to picture the film in a dystopian setting.

In contrast, It’s a Free World… would make for a fantastic, if an exponentially grimmer adaptation. None of the levity that is organically woven into Riff-Raff is present in It’s a Free World…, as the latter features a leading lady who only descends deeper into ethical repugnance as her story goes on. In the film, Angie (Kierston Wareing) is tired of constantly losing a string of dead-end jobs and decides to start a recruitment agency of her own with her friend Rose (Juliet Ellis). Troublingly, when realizing the profitability of exploiting an immigrant workforce, Angie abandons her morals to make a buck. The film is void of likability, and deliberately places audiences in the shoes of a ruthless gangmaster, creating the ideal scenario for a horror film. A reworked It’s a Free World… could arguably also succeed if told from the perspectives of the story’s ill-treated immigrants, but Angie herself would make for a viciously meaty role as it is.

Finally, Route Irish is caught up in the political machinations of the Iraq War, specifically in relation to private military contractors. The film – so titled because of the eponymous nickname for Baghdad Airport Road – is about a contractor and former soldier named Fergus (Mark Womack), whose colleague Frankie (John Bishop) died while on a job. Fergus is desperate to know what happened to his best friend, and soon realizes that the details of Frankie’s death are shrouded in suspicion. He then decides to do a little digging of his own, unearthing dark revelations about himself in the process. Like It’s a Free World…, there’s nothing feel-good about Route Irish. The combination of Fergus’ inner torment and culpability and the film’s layered, grisly portrayal ultimately sidesteps expected cathartic release. Rather, a Route Irish redo could create a vengeful action antiheroine out of a protagonist who’s hungry for answers.

These are just three examples of Loach films that could become commendable genre films in Demange’s hands. All of them have deep political implications that are crucial to each story. And although It’s a Free World… already has a frightfully unabashed female protagonist to write home about, gender-bending any of Loach’s lead characters shouldn’t be a problem when his films primarily focus on normalizing people from all walks of life. Demange’s own style truly reads like a more frenzied take on Loach-esque realism anyway, and he could very well pull off his dream adaptation.

Sheryl Oh often finds herself fascinated (and let's be real, a little obsessed) with actors and their onscreen accomplishments, developing Film School Rejects' Filmographies column as a passion project. She's not very good at Twitter but find her at @sherhorowitz anyway. (She/Her)