Repeating more or less the same formula as their 1991 success “Riff Raff,” director Ken Loach and writer Jim Allen have come up trumps with “Raining Stones ,” a sad-funny portrayal of working class stiffs battling the recession in northern England. Though designed for the TV screen, the film contains more truth and humor than many a large-screen picture, and is sure to entrance audiences who bother to seek it out. It was one of the better competing films at the Cannes festival.
From his earliest films (“Poor Cow,””Kes”) and TV productions (“Cathy Come Home”), Loach has always been the champion of Britain’s working class, and in scripter Jim Allen he has obviously found a kindred spirit. Allen writes about real characters whose everyday lives are filled with comedy and suspense, and Loach, with his knack for perfect casting and his remarkable way with actors, is able to turn Allen’s words into small-scale cinema gems.
“Raining Stones,” which is set in Manchester suburb of Middleton, centers on Bob (Bruce Jones), an out-of-work plumber who desperately needs money to pay for the expensive white dress he feels his small daughter deserves to wear for her first communion.
His attempts to earn much-needed cash include the bizarre (rustling a sheep and selling pieces of mutton at the local pub) to the comic (going door to door offering to fix faulty drains, and winding up cleaning out the foul-smelling waste pipes from the toilet of the local Catholic Church for no payment) to the dangerous (borrowing money from a loan shark with a violent reputation).
Like Bette Davis in “The Catered Affair,” Bob stubbornly insists his daughter should have the best for her Big Day, even though she doesn’t really need it and he can’t afford it; and, like the father in “The Bicycle Thief,” he is forever optimistic, even in the face of humiliation and despair.
Loach and Allen alternate comedy, some of it spoken in broad enough Manchester accents to warrant the use of subtitles in English-speaking territories outside the U.K., with suspense and tragedy; at times, the film almost plays like one of those 1940s Hollywood pix in which a beleaguered Everyman struggles against the system that almost crushes him.
When the loan shark (Jonathan James) threatens Bob’s wife and daughter, Bob’s actions result in a violent and unpredictable confrontation. A climactic scene between Bob and his parish priest (Tom Hickey) provides the film with its entirely satisfactory, yet quite unexpected, conclusion.
Bruce Jones is perfectly cast as the rumpled hero whose luck seems to have run out, and Ricky Tomlinson is a scream as his loyal, sardonic friend whose wisecracks provide much of the film’s humor. As the unorthodox priest, Hickey is properly placid for the most part, but he’s given the film’s most unexpected — and for some probably shocking — line of dialogue.
Loach doesn’t disguise his anger at the sorry state of Britain today, with its high unemployment, poverty and despair. He lucidly charts the links between the seemingly hopeless situation for the unemployed and violence and drug-taking among the young. And though one character explicitly rejects the Church, seen as part of the problem rather than the solution, the Catholic priest does, in the end, play a wholly positive role in the drama.
Barry Ackroyd’s grainy photography is in keeping with the film’s mood and setting, and Stewart Copeland’s bright music score is intelligently used.
The title is derived from a comment made by Bob’s socialist father-in-law: “When you’re a worker, it rains stones seven days a week.” It’s an apt moniker for a feisty, hugely enjoyable gem of a film.