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UK 2002
Directed by
Ken Loach
93 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
4 stars

The Navigators

Synopsis: In Thatcherist England, British Rail is being privatised and a group of South Yorkshire railway workers - Gerry (Venn Tracey), John (Dean Andrews), Mick (Thomas Craig), Paul (Joe Duttine), Jim (Steve Huison) and Len (Andy Swallow) are faced with voluntary redundancy or the tough new work environment.

Ken Loach has been making "committed" films, that is film about working class concerns, since his directorial debut with Poor Cow in 1967, so small wonder that he is so good at it, deftly balancing his political persuasions with the demands of commercial cinema.

Hence, cannily, this film has the requisite ingredients of mainstream cinema - sex, violence, music and laughter but delivered without artifice in the unvarnished context of real people struggling to keep on top of the quietly desperate madness engendered by a society governed by economic rationalist values. There are no stridently political or dramatic statements made here (although there is a mock corporate video that inveigles the rail workers with its "vision" for their future), Loach takes the converse approach, letting the events speak for themselves. Nowhere is this more effectively done than in the closing shot where the three mates walk away from their old yard to their new workaday order, complicit in their invisible shame.

Whilst the settings are either damp-to-wet exteriors or the drab interiors of council flats and the railway yard lunch rooms, not the most beguiling of visual subject matter, the film is superbly composed and shot, creating a montage of the environment which is the men's daily lives. Equally, scripting is spot-on (it was written by Rob Dawber, a former contract railway employee who died shortly before the film's release) and the performances are all excellent, encompassing, aside from the ensemble of main players, a range of characters from the thick-as-two planks cleaner to the two-faced " human resources": manager in the temp agency where the men go to look for work after they have taken their redundancy package.

Don't go running off to see this if you are looking for some escapist thrills. On the other hand you needn't expect to be dragged across the shards of broken lives. Like the best of social realist cinema, The Navigators articulates its message within the context of a finely-wrought story, combining its loud call for decency and dignity with a genuine affection for its subjects.




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