Fillm still from Ken Loach’s It’s a Free World (2007). Courtesy Pathé Productions Ltd., London. 

Apr 17 2015

Mobile M+: Moving Images (Part Three: It’s A Free World)

by Denise Tsui

“Hope” was the overarching theme given to the second weekend of screenings for “Mobile M+: Moving Images.” It is also a topic that is illustrated in the 2007 film It’s a Free World, which was presented at the Venice Film Festival that same year and won the film’s screenwriter, Paul Laverty, the Golden Osella award for best screenplay. Produced by British film and television director Ken Loach, known for his socialist views and cinematic portrayals of issues such as labor conditions and poverty, It’s a Free World is a confronting and heartfelt look at the situation surrounding the exploitation of cheap immigrant labor.

The 96-minute film begins in Poland, where the protagonist, Angie, is interviewing potential immigrant workers. Upon her return to the London office of the recruitment agency that she works for, Angie is unfairly fired from her job after standing up against the sexual harassment she faced at work. Fed up with being mistreated and living in debt, Angie sets up her own recruitment business with her flatmate Rose.

It is from this point that the story line picks up and deeper character profiles emerge. Rose is portrayed as level-headed and responsible—always foreseeing the possible consequences of actions and calculating risks against profit with a modest fear of the law. Angie, on the other hand, is purely driven by her ambitions for economic gain and stops at no cost to achieve it, even if her actions were to result in possible jail time. Angie unashamedly utilizes her sex appeal to recruit workers and as the legality of their business comes under question, Angie’s choices become increasingly abhorrent. As a viewer, watching her downward spiral poses questions about what one would do given her circumstances.

Fillm still from Ken Loach’s It’s a Free World (2007). Courtesy Pathé Productions Ltd., London. 

Yet, Loach’s characters are never quite so simple or linear. At one point in the film, Angie’s compassion toward others is shown as she attempts to help Mahmoud, an illegal Iranian refugee, find work and a place to live for his wife and two young daughters. Concurrently, as reasons behind Angie’s estranged relationship with her 11-year-old son unfold, it is impossible not to be empathetic toward her—a single mother desperately trying to set her life straight for the sake of her child. Unscrupulous actions aside, the ill-turned good intentions of Angie expressed in such scenes make it difficult for the viewer to dislike her.

Toward the end, the film takes a sinister twist when a group of angry unpaid workers turns violent. It’s a Free World concludes with Rose ending the business partnership, disgusted by Angie’s ruthless actions, which leaves the latter traveling to Ukraine to continue recruiting illegal immigrant workers.

Hope is central to each character in the film: Angie’s hopes lay in rekindling her relationship with her son; Rose wishes to successfully own a legitimate business; Mahmoud wants a safe place for his family; and the many vulnerable migrant workers portrayed in the film all hope for a path out of poverty. It’s a Free World demonstrates that hope and desperation has the powerful ability to unravel one’s morality.

Denise Tsui is assistant editor at ArtAsiaPacific.