The Navigators It is unusual for a TV drama to deal specifically with engineering life so this week Foresight took a look at Ken Loach's view of the privatisation of the railway industry.
Ken Loach is well known for his realistic portrayals of working class life in films like Kes, Raining Stones, Riff Raff and Land & Freedom. His ability to make a point, combined with the raw humour of working people far removed from big business decision making processes, has won him much praise and several prizes at the Cannes Film Festival.
The Navigators follows the fortunes of a group of railway workers as the privatisation of British Rail takes place, and at the drop of a safety helmet the Woodford depot becomes Northern Infrastructure, in the same way that freight companies these days are all known as something or other logistics. The break up of the network, and the legions of track maintenance companies which replace it, find some taking redundancy and casual agency work, while those who stay put endure diminishing pay and conditions.
Although there is no disguising where Loach's sympathies lie, as management rides roughshod over long held and sometimes barmy working practices, the film flatters neither side. However, market forces, unqualified labour and the fragmentation and isolation of an industry and its workers is the theme here.
The spectre of Maggie Thatcher and the sell off bonanzas of the 1980s which lined so many pockets - mostly for big shareholders - hovers above the script by Rob Dawber, who just lived long enough to see the final cut of the film. He died earlier this year from cancer, contracted while working with asbestos on the railway and whose voluntary redundancy from the industry was anything but voluntary.
A cast that includes local club comedians and performers provides plenty of coarse humour and language that makes Fred Dibnah look like Raffles, the sophisticated gentleman cad.
This is Loach's first film for television in 20 years. Some may remember him for Cathy Come Home, which he made for the BBC's Wednesday Play series in 1965. It shocked the nation in its depiction of a couple who become homeless, gave huge impetus to the charity Shelter and prompted so much debate that it was shown again the following week. The Navigators may not have the same impact on the public conscience but it still has plenty to say and paints a grim picture indeed. A bumpy ride but worth a look.