Riff-Raff, a sprightly ensemble comedy about workers on a London building site, will surprise those who think Brit helmer Ken Loach can crank out only political items. Semi-improvised pic is strong on yocks and easy to digest.
Central character is Stevie (Robert Carlyle), a young Glaswegian just out of stir, who’s come south and got a job converting a closed-down hospital into luxury apartments. His co-workers are from all over – Liverpudlians, Geordies (natives of Newcastle), West Indians. They’re breaking every regulation in the book and running scams on the side. Home is a squat in a dingy council block.
After Stevie meets Susan (Emer McCourt), a drifter from Belfast who’s trying to make it as a singer, they move in together and make a go of it in the big city. Story yo-yos between their fragile relationship and the shenanigans on the building site.
Fruity script by onetime laborer Bill Jesse (who died in 1990 just before the pic was completed) catches the wisecracking flavor of navvy repartee. Comedic tone also spills over into the love story. Thesping by no-name cast is strong and clearly benefits from Loach’s insistence that all actors have building-site experience.