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Socialist Review Index (1993–1996) | Socialist Review 179 Contents

Socialist Review, October 1994

Anne Cooper


Caught in the web


From Socialist Review, No. 179, October 1994.
Copyright © Socialist Review.
Copied with thanks from the Socialist Review Archive.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Ladybird, Ladybird
Dir: Ken Loach

This is an agonising story, all the more harrowing because it is true. It is a not uncommon tale of a single parent and her struggle with social workers and courts to maintain and eventually regain custody of her children once social services have deemed her an unfit mother.

Maggie, the main character, has suffered at the hands of an abusive father and a series of violent partners. She is wary of forming a new relationship but she meets Jorge, a Paraguayan refugee who has witnessed scenes of cruelty and repression in his own country. He identifies with Maggie’s suffering and recognises it is the cause of her distrust and self-destructiveness. They become lovers. He becomes entangled in the web of bureaucracy that surrounds and threatens to suffocate Maggie’s life.

Ken Loach is well known for Cathy Come Home and the recent films Riff Raff and Raining Stones. He depicts the lives of working class men and women in a manner that is neither sentimental nor idealised. Here he gives us, in collaboration with writer Ruth Munro, an acute and penetrating portrayal of real life.

The main characters are played by two newcomers to film. Crissy Rock plays the role of Maggie and Vladimir Vega, a Chilean exile, enacts the part of Jorge. It is a tribute to Loach that he can inspire in them the confidence and strength the roles require.

This film appears at a time when the Tories have placed single mothers under scrutiny. Peter Lilley would have us believe that single parents are greedy and conniving, jump the housing queue, and are responsible for all manner of social ills: youth crime, falling educational standards, a general decline in ‘moral standards’. The victims of poverty, homelessness, violence and abuse are blamed for their situation instead of being offered support.

Ladybird, Ladybird goes a long way to expose this. Occasionally it comes across as more documentary than drama but combines fact and fiction successfully. It examines the role that the social services play in these cases. Cold, brusque officials fail entirely to comprehend that Maggie’s seemingly unstable behaviour is a result of distrust, frustration, anger and fear. Their interpretation of her actions only serves to reinforce their opinion of her status as an unfit mother. At best they are over zealous, at worst their methods only serve to confuse and intimidate those they claim to be trying to help.

In the court scene the expressions ‘stable background’ and ‘safety of the child’ are bandied about but seem to bear no relation to reality. Who decides, and on what criteria, who is an unfit mother?

The film also highlights the racism that Jorge experiences. Incisive scripting illuminates the lack of expectations that women of Maggie’s background and experience hold.

Ladybird, Ladybird paints a bleak portrait of contemporary Britain but is not altogether pessimistic. Its optimism emerges through the determination of the characters themselves – the tenacity of Maggie, the patience of Jorge, their joint perseverance to be a family. It is through this struggle that we gain hope.

This is a tremendous film, to which words can hardly do justice. My first response to it was overwhelmingly emotional. It deserves more than the awards it has already gained and it deserves to be seen by as many people as possible.

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