British Universities Film & Video Council

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2013. GB. DVD. Park Circus. 111 minutes. Price: £15.99

About the author: Laura Mayne is a Doctoral Candidate and one of the Research Assistants on the ‘Channel Four Television and British Film Culture’ project (, which currently being undertaken at University of Portsmouth with the collaboration of the BUFVC, looking at the impact of Film Four.

Fatherland (1986) represents an interesting moment in Ken Loach’s career for a number of reasons.  The film was a first-time collaboration with the writer Trevor Griffiths, and it also marked the end of Loach’s longstanding partnership with cinematographer Chris Menges. Fatherland was a co-production between MK2 (France) Clasart Film- und Fernsehproduktion and Channel 4. It was the first film that Loach made with the support of the channel, which would go on to finance many of his subsequent productions including Riff Raff (1991), Raining Stones (1993) and Ladybird, Ladybird (1994). As well as representing an increasing trend towards European co-production in the 1980s due to a scarcity of finance in the UK, it can also be seen as Loach’s first step towards becoming an international film director.

Fatherland tells the story of Klaus Dritteman (Gerulf Pannach), a musician and political dissenter who channels his dissatisfaction with the GDR into his music. After he is exiled from his home in East Germany, he is welcomed by the West and offered a lucrative deal by a record company. But Dritteman soon finds that capitalist society can be just as oppressive as the ‘actually existing socialism’ of the East. After refusing to sign his contract on the company’s terms, he embarks on a journey to Cambridge in search of his father, also a musician, who was exiled from East Germany some forty years previously. Dritteman finds himself gradually uncovering a dark past with the help of the young journalist Emma (Fabienne Baba), who appears to have an agenda of her own.

The film was a departure from Loach’s authentic, documentary style; a move away from realism towards an experimentation with European art cinema. It provides an uncompromising view of the ways in which governments use people for their own ideological agendas. Shortly after his arrival in West Germany, Dritteman seems to be well on his way to becoming the poster-boy for capitalism, with his publicists keen to brand him as an escapee from a brutal political regime. Western society also has its own ways of suppressing dissent – in England, British policemen refuse to allow picketers to attend a demonstration, while a radio show caller who asks about the missile crisis but is ignored by the host. However, one could argue that the aesthetic of the film serves to work against its political message. Loach seems to gloss over issues superficially rather than engaging with the ideas he raises. The so-called ‘decadence’ of the West is mainly represented in the form of a party where media personalities watch highly sexualised music videos, snort cocaine and stare off into the distance with empty expressions. The politics of the first part of the film almost seem to take a back seat to Dritteman’s ponderous, personal journey of exploration to find his father and come to terms with his own guilt at leaving his son.

At times these two narratives seem to jostle for position, never quite appearing to hang together. And in addition to these two distinct tones, the film almost veers off into surrealism in places, with the inclusion of a number of dream sequences shot in black and white which aim to symbolise Dritteman’s divided feelings and inner turmoil. However, Loach does raise some interesting points which deserve consideration, and this short-lived experimentation with different aesthetic styles means that Fatherland is quite unlike anything the director has produced in his long career. In addition, many of the scenes between Pannach and Baba are beautifully acted, with seemingly trivial dialogue hinting at a deep sexual tension and profound mistrust.

The DVD has recently been released by Park Circus, and though the extras on the disc are minimal (consisting mainly of a Stills Gallery) the film will be valuable viewing for any fan of Loach’s work.

Laura Mayne

See also: Walter

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