Ladybird, Ladybird: Ken Loach’s Grim Tale of a Mother Losing her Six Children

The best performance rendered by an actress this year may be Crissy Rock’s in Ken Loach’s Ladybird, Ladybird, a relentlessly grim, almost horror, story of a woman who loses six of her children to the state’s social service authorities.

I saw the movie in an advance screening about a year ago, and after the show I couldn’t utter a word, let alone talk about the movie with my friends, as I often do. It’s truly depressing, almost too painful to watch.

Yet, Ken Loach is one of the few British directors to deal with social problems of the working class in a totally uncompromising way–which, of course, makes his films uncommercial. Even though Loach has been making good movies for close to 30 years, his name is still unknown in the U.S. Ladybird, Ladybird follows two other masterworks by Loach, last year’s Riff-Raff and Raining Stones, which opened earlier this year.

Amazingly, this is Rock’s feature debut; previously, she had worked as a stand-up comic in Liverpool. Hers is one of the least actorish performances I’ve ever seen: fearless, dauntless, and heartbreaking.

As Maggie, Rock plays a battered woman who has born children to four different men. Loach and his screenwriter, Rona Munro, refuse to sentimentalize her personality and they leave it up to the audience to draw their own conclusions as to whether Maggie can take responsibility for her children. Love is not the issue: The state claims that Maggie is an “unfit” mother, because she has repeatedly exposed her children to scenes of domestic violence.

At the center of the movie is Maggie’s relationship with Jorge (Vladimir Bega), a Paraguayan refugee-immigrant, whom she meets in a pub. He is as tender and sensitive as she is harsh and tough. Together, they become parents to yet another set of children.

The story is told from Maggie’s subjective point-of-view and the authorities remain throughout the story implacable symbols of oppression, heartless and anonymous figures.

Still, considering what kind of treatment this tragic story would have received in America, as a typical TV-Movie-of-the-Week, Loach’s chronicle is emotionally powerful without ever being melodramatic or sentimental.