It is estimated that 90% of low paid-work in London is done by the proportion of migrant workers who are the new class of transient casual day labourers. After being falsely promised good wages and full time work, these unskilled, non-English speakers from Eastern Europe, South America and the Middle East are at the mercy of unscrupulous employers and a government reluctant to impose better regulations, else they upset the industries that are benefiting from the cheap labour.
If there is one filmmaker who you’d expect to make a film about the appalling lack of rights in Britain for many migrant workers, then it is Ken Loach. Loach’s social realist style of filmmaking and socialist politics have resulted in a string of films that depict the social evils of prejudice, poverty, substance abuses, homelessness and the abuse of workers’ rights. For It’s a Free World… Loach has once again collaborated with writer Paul Laverty who has written many of Loach’s best films including My Name is Joe, Sweet Sixteen, Ae Fond Kiss… and The Wind That Shakes the Barley.
Interestingly, the central character of It’s a Free World… is Angie (newcomer Kierston Wareing), a recruitment professional who makes a living recruiting cheap migrant factory workers. Angie is initially sympathetic and recognisable – she’s an overqualified 30-something single Mum who is sick of working in dead end jobs for middle-aged men who think it is acceptable to grope her at the pub. After losing her job she decides to take control of her life and sets up her own recruitment agency. While initially successful, Angie very quickly finds herself out of her depth with unscrupulous business owners and increasingly aggressive workers demanding to be paid. To the horror of her business partner and friend Rose (Juliet Ellis, also new to film acting) Angie engages in increasingly illegal, exploitive and immoral behaviour in order to survive.
It’s a Free World… is a damning critique of the exploitive industry that has sprung up to capitalise on the influx of low skilled migrants who have poured into Britain. Loach wisely avoids condemning Angie directly and instead depicts her as somebody who is both a victim of the system and somebody who has been driven hard and cruel by it. However, her actions aren’t excusable either and Loach reveals her to be complicit in the process that reduces individual people into depersonalised human resources.