Classic Film Club: 'Raining Stones' (1993)
Each week Tom Huddleston watches a classic film he's never seen before. The rules are simple: each film must be considered a masterpiece and each must be completely new to him. This week: Ken Loach's 'Raining Stones'
The film centres on Bob – played by Bruce Jones (Les Battersby in 'Corrie’ ) – a browbeaten, working-class dad struggling to raise money for his daughter’s communion dress, and taking part in various quick-cash schemes cooked up by his sad-sack sidekick Tommy (Ricky Tomlinson). The first act verges on comedy, as the pair attempt to steal a sheep, then get involved in turf-robbing from the local Conservative Club bowling green. But there’s a constant sense of impending threat, partly engendered by the harsh industrial/suburban coldness of Loach’s landscape, and partly by the deepening look of worry on Jones’s face as Bob's situation becomes increasingly desperate.
Loach loads the film up with his customary political and sociological preoccupations: the character of Jimmy (Mike Fallon), Bob’s brother-in-law and a jobs counsellor down at the local advice bureau, stands for the reliability of the old socialist left. He’s contrasted with Tom Hickey’s Father Barry, a kindly, pragmatic priest whose clear affection for Bob doesn’t prevent him from exploiting the younger man’s good nature. These two men never speak – they barely share screen time – but it’s in the equal and opposing pressures they exert on Bob (and, by extension, Loach) that their conflict is made real. Its hard to say precisely whose side Loach is on: Father Barry is the more sympathetic character, but he’s also very much the puppet of an uncaring, money-making Catholic hierarchy; while Jimmy may have his political patter down, but he can’t tend to Bob’s emotional or spiritual needs.
If this preoccupation with the struggle between earthly and spiritual concerns already strongly echoes ‘Crimes and Misdemeanours’, the final act makes the comparison unmistakable; though, ironically, Loach is much softer on his characters than Allen is. Where Woody had his Judah intentionally hiring a man to assassinate a woman he had, until recently, been in love with, Loach’s Bob is forced into accidental homicide by the utterly unforgivable and devastating actions of a local loan shark. But the conclusions each film reaches are remarkably similar: each deals with criminal acts, and consequent acts of self-forgiveness, filtered through ideas of religious guilt and moral certitude versus hard reality and universal impassivity.
Fusing weighty themes with Loach’s usual hyperrealistic, almost soap-opera aesthetic, ‘Raining Stones’ is arguably the director’s strongest film. Witty and beautifully observed, it’s also brave and psychologically challenging without ever alienating its audience. As a portrait of man’s eternal struggle towards the light, it manages to be simultaneously sympathetic, elegiac and inspirational; as a portrait of British working-class life, it deserves to be shown in schools.
Author: Tom Huddleston
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