Intriguing and admirable but ultimately frustrating and confused, Ken Loach's It's A Free World (2007) exhibits some of the same problems that have marred a few of the director's other collaborations with the screenwriter Paul Laverty. The film follows the exploits of Angie (Kierston Wareing), a young woman whom we first meet in Katowice, Poland, where she's working for an agency that recruits workers to the UK. After being unfairly dismissed from this job, Angie returns to London and decides to set up an agency of her own, running it from her kitchen with her friend Rose (Juliet Ellis). Angie's business flourishes, but only as it becomes increasingly dependent upon its exploitation of the immigrants.
There's nothing wrong with the premise; an exploration of the complexities of economic migration to Britain would be very welcome; indeed, Nick Broomfield went some way to providing one in Ghosts (2006), his compelling film about the Morcambe Bay cockling disaster. While It's A Free World never achieves that film's sense of urgency or intensity, a few sequences depicting Angie's interactions and arguments with the workers do find Loach at his observant best. But the film is only satisfying on a moment-to-moment basis; the connections between scenes are often unclear; some sequences seem to relate to scenes that have been edited out; and a late lurch into thriller mode does not distract from the film's increasing incoherence. Wareing gives a compelling enough performance, but it's hard to gauge just how Loach and Laverty feel about the actions of their heroine (exactly what she's up to is sometimes fudged by the structure of the film), or how the viewer is supposed to feel about her, either.
You can't help but admire Loach for his focus on aspects of British life that most film-makers tend to avoid, but that's not exactly a compensation for the narrative confusions of some of his recent work. Good intentions, sadly, do not a great film make, and It's A Free World offers further proof of that.