Looking for Eric
Could Ken Loach finally be mellowing in his eighth decade? For years the socialist director has been British cinema’s most consistently political filmmaker, illuminating how the dreams of his working class characters are inevitably thwarted by the economic and social inequalities of modern capitalism. Teaming up with regular collaborators – screenwriter Paul Laverty and cinematographer Barry Ackroyd, plus the ex-Manchester United footballer Eric Cantona – Loach seems to now want a hit, and this sentimental, feel good comedy may just be the ticket for commercial success.
Its protagonist, Eric Bishop (Steve Evets), is a middle-aged Mancuanian postman prone to panic attacks. Following two failed marriages, he currently lives with his two teenaged stepsons, who treat him contemptuously. Childcare arrangements for his granddaughter mean that he has to meet Lily (Stephanie Bishop), the woman he ran out on three decades earlier. Gazing up one night over a spliff at a bedroom poster of Cantona, Eric is amazed to see the Frenchman appear.
Cantona proceeds to act as a life coach to the mixed-up Eric, passing on his heavily accented wisdom in the form of maxims, such as, ‘You cannot throw a six if you do not roll the dice.’ The advice is pithy: communicate with those who you love and trust one’s friends, here represented by Eric’s good natured postal colleagues led by Meatballs (John Henshaw). Cantona nominates the finest moment of his career as being a pass to a teammate, rather than one of the spectacular strikes shown in the montages of his goals (a veil is drawn over his lack of success at European and international level – to his fans he remains ‘le roi’.)
Shot without frills, the engagingly acted Looking for Eric is much less conspicuously political than Loach’s previous films. There’s no mention of the threats to privatise the Royal Mail, and the character of Spleen, who bemoans how ordinary fans have been priced out of attending live Premiership games, is treated comically. And if Loach has never been afraid of blending social realism and melodrama in his work, here the shifts in tone feel awkward. This film is at its most touching when observing how the romantic relationship between Eric and Lily is gradually rekindled, and at its least convincing in its lurch into gun crime territory, while the upbeat finale, in celebrating the role of collective action, is more entertaining than dramatically credible.
General release from Fri 12 Jun.