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My Name Is Joe (1998, Peter Mullan, Louise Goodall)

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After Land And Freedom , a study of working class passions and idealism during the 1936 Spanish Civil War, Ken Loach returned to subjects much closer to home for one of his bleakest movies to date. Filmed entirely in Glasgow, with a largely non-professional cast made up of former alcoholics and drug users, My Name Is Joe takes a look at the problems facing the post-Thatcher underclass, for whom oblivion is a way of life.

It takes its name from the Alcoholics Anonymous rulebook, which requires members to introduce themselves to the group and admit they have a problem. Which is where we meet Joe (Peter Mullan), a reformed drinker who emotionally admits than he can no longer drink ‘with safety’. To keep himself on the straight and narrow, Joe is trying to help local boy Liam (David McKay), a heroin addict, to stay away from drugs and rebuild his life with his girlfriend and baby. At first he’s suspicious of Liam’s social worker Sarah (Louise Goodall), but when she protects him after a run-in with the DHSS, the two become close.

Liam, however, has a serious problem with local drug dealers, to whom he owes Ł1,500 – not vast sum of money in the grand scheme of things but a fortune to someone with nothing – and to wipe out the debt, Joe agrees to take part in a drug run, which seriously compromises his relationship with Sarah.

Although drugs and dependency are among the key themes of this film, My Name Is Joe is not a drug movie in the standard sense. In many ways its bleakness come from the fact that drugs are not really an issue in many communities, and the central love affair between the middle-class social worker and rough diamond Joe points up the schism that exists in modern Britain. And after a brief flirtation with comedy in Riff-Raff and Raining Stones , it certainly marks a return to more sombre material, and Loach even feels inclined to deconstruct its central romance.

‘To call it a love story would be a cliché,’ says Loach. ‘It’s about relationships, really – how people feel about each other to begin with, how they’re brought together, how it develops, and how all the social and economic pressures affect them. It also deals ultimately with what drives them apart and the logic of the choice that each of them has to make, as well as one’s predisposition to choose a certain course of action. The code of conduct each lives by partly brings them together and partly drives them apart.’

production details
UK | 105 minutes | 1998

Director: Ken Loach
Script: Paul Laverty

cast
Peter Mullan as Joe
Louise Goodall as Sarah
David McKay as Liam
David Hayman as McGowan
Gary Lewis as Shanks
Lorraine McIntosh as Maggie
Stephen McCole as Mojo
David Peacock as Hooligan