John Bishop in Route Irish

Route Irish


A movie for every day of the year – a good one



16 January



Operation Desert Storm starts, 1991

On this day in 1991, in what is now known as the First Gulf War, the troop and weapons mobilisation operation known as Operation Desert Shield came to an end and Operation Desert Storm, the invasion of Iraq, began. The invasion had been prompted by the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, to seize oil fields and territory that Iraq claimed were rightly theirs – a dispute that went all the way back to when the borders between the two countries were drawn by the British in 1922. Kuwait and the international community didn’t take Iraq’s side in the dispute. More importantly nor did Saudi Arabia. And so a coalition led militarily by the US but sizeably funded by the Saudis set out to reverse the situation. The first stage of Desert Storm consisted of winning the battle in the air. This was easy. The US and partners flew 100,000 sorties and dropped 88,500 tons of bombs, and largely eliminated Iraq’s military infrastructure. The war was essentially over before any ground troops went into action, with a ceasefire being announced within 100 hours of the ground assault starting on 24 February. Because of the air superiority, and the way images from tactical strikes on Iraqi targets were relayed to TV broadcasters, the war became known as the video game war. And because of the limited ground assault, reporting was largely restricted to what the US military wanted the world’s broadcasters to see. One consequence of this lack of real “news” was the promotion of Coalition military commander General “Stormin” Norman Schwarzkopf to pin-up boy.




Route Irish (2010, dir: Ken Loach)

Route Irish is the Ken Loach film for people who don’t like Ken Loach films. What looks like a deliberate attempt by Loach to move away from the social realist, documentary-style films for which he’s been known since the 1960s, the film looks like it’s shaping up to be a bromance but is in fact a political procedural. So far, so Hollywood. It is the story of Fergus (Mark Womack) a security contractor in the seond Iraq war who is trying to find out what the mate Frankie (John Bishop) he recruited into the firm really died from, rather than accept the bland official explanation. It’s a fascinating film in many ways, not least because it’s essentially a big thriller made for a tiny budget. But also because it sees Loach embracing what might be called the YouTube/Skype look, the internetty thing, without going too crassly shakycam. Politically Loach is in interesting territory too – he patriotically points out at one point, for instance, that it was the Americans who were doing the waterboarding, not the Brits. This is probably untrue, and certainly unfair. If a country is going to get involved in a war then it owes it to its allies to take its share of the shit as well as the glory, no? As for those “contractors” – the name Loach and regular screenwriter Paul Laverty never dare speak is “mercenaries”, which is what they were. Do these beefs get in the way of an energetic, angry film that’s been deliberately edited to leave us grasping for information, in the same way Fergus does? Not in the slightest. And in its original decision to tell us the stories that The Hurt Locker and The Green Zone don’t tell – of the outsourcing of war to private companies who aren’t burdened with explaining themselves to their electorates – it enters a territory more film-makers really should be exploring.



Why Watch?


  • Loach’s best film in some years
  • Comedian John Bishop’s brief but lively appearance as Frankie
  • Old dog Loach learns new tricks
  • An untold story worth telling


© Steve Morrissey 2014



Route Irish – at Amazon





4 thoughts on “Route Irish”

  1. If you want a movie that will hold your attention and leave you feeling like you've watched a great movie, this is it. I am not a connoisseur of Ken Loach, or a movie snob, I just enjoy a movie that holds my attention.

    Unlike the other reviewers, I thought the characters were well-drawn and convincing. The effects used on the film itself such as graininess, washed out lomo effect, and darkness in the right places, makes this a pleasure to watch.

    The over-use of the f-bomb is a real factor. Men do talk exactly like that, but for a film less would have been more.

    The politics of the mercenary world are shown brilliantly and without any sense of preachiness or one-sidedness.

    Just an excellent movie.

  2. The private companies with special tasks in Iraq are since long a problem. They aren't bound by the rules which regular armed forces have. They also exist in Britain and this new Ken Loach movie is about them.

    A taxi with two children is destroyed. Later one of the contracted soldiers is killed and his friend tries to find out what happened. Who are the bad guys here? That warhead in the barrack or somebody or somebodies much higher in the hierarchy? This is not a typical Ken Loach drama, since it's on the surface more of a typical war thriller than an outcry about social injustice. But social injustice becomes the main theme. Loach is one of the few remaining outraged society commentators. We shall be glad we have him.

  3. As I watched this superb Ken Loach film I kept on being reminded of "Get Carter". It wasn't the storyline but the imagery, the characters, the acting, and the reasons why this film works so well. And the central idea, as in "Get Carter", is about seeking justice for something that has happened to someone close.

    From the moment we observe the bereaved Rachel, played with uncanny realism by Andrea Lowe, walk up and symbolically thump Mark Womack's Fergus we know we are in for a tough and uncompromising movie. And, as the story unfolds, we observe Womack's troubled character go through so many transitions whilst being so convincingly set on obtaining a certain justice for his best mate Frankie (John Bishop).

    And although there are complexities in unravelling who did what and to whom the basic story is very simple, so simple it tells itself right to the very end. There is no room for sentimentality in this film, no clear divide between the good and the bad, we are simply left to imagine what we might do in the same circumstances. If there is a moral to the story it is the price of justice and the cost of being a survivor when things go wrong for someone very close to you.

    The acting across the board is of the highest standard but I will single out Andrea Lowe and Mark Womack for performances which are stunningly realistic, beautifully honed and so powerfully delivered. These two just hold you in their grasp whenever they are on screen.

    It is not a film for everyone and the subject matter is very controversial but it achieves what it sets out to do. It makes you think about what you might do in the same situation, how far you might go, how guilty you might feel, and it does so without ever sensationalising what is going on.

    I recommend it wholeheartedly to anyone who enjoys being immersed in intelligent films.

  4. Ken Loach remains the British auteur. Route Irish while definitely not his best due to the off-script ad lib workshop style remains a powerful and relevant film. It would have been made into a big Hollywood thriller in the US going all the way up to the Senate and beyond, and this is the film's strength – it focuses on squaddies – simple soldiers – no big politics here – and the film gets its impact from that.

    The plot of the man whose best friend joins up because of him then dies is mysterious circumstances in Iraq is a very strong plot – more so that most Loach films.

    Set in Liverpool and Iraq the filming, the settings, the language, and even, in places the acting are crude and in your face – this is not Ae Fond Kiss or even The Wind That Shakes The Barley, this is an angry Ken, a Ken saying look this matters forget subtlety – let's just get it done.

    The film is carried by Mark Womack who brings both skill as an actor and improviser and an unknown raw almost out of control energy that carries the themes and give the film its power.

    All in all, while not Loach's best in terms of film, this should be his most powerful and relevant, but by opting for a crude and broad approach instead of some subtle in with the barrage – left this viewer numbed – some space and silences (Like all over Loach films have had magnificently) would have helped perhaps.

    A visceral film but one that overpowers the viewer's emotions too much, one that while still very powerful doesn't linger as other Loach films have.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *