ken loach movies are not normally laugh-a-minute. of course, they can be funny [usually in a dry way] but they can also be harrowing and maudlin and slightly soul-destroying.* not this one.

looking for eric does feature the man-god philosopher king cantona, and is cut throughout with footage of man u in its glory days with cantona in his rightful place as the secular saint of manchester. but the eric of the title is a more conventional loach hero – an ordinary man whose goodness is neither inscribed by his class nor compromised because of it.

it’s not a wholly romantic bit of social realism, as the characters face some of the storied challenges of poverty and its power to limit opportunity. it is magic realism with the deftest of touch, so perhaps too whimsical for those like their loach gut-wrenching and heart-stopping in equal measure.

i like that loach too but i loved this film.

you don’t have to be a football fan either [i’m not] to be affected by the role it plays in the life of the protagonist. many a sports film has equated love of sport with a yearning for self-respect, belonging, tribe, and excellence, and this movie does lean heavily on the “football is life” metaphor. ultimately, teamwork, trust and willingness to risk everything for success/love/peace is the message we take with us. cantona is magnificently lowkey throughout and that’s why it works. nobody needs to see one of the greatest footballers who ever lived popping into frame like jiminy cricket meets tony robbins.

and yes, it includes themes of family breakdown, intergenerational social mobility, masculinity and the working class, the ubiquity of violence and the attraction of crime, and some good-old fashioned self-sabotage. but it’s also fucking hilarious and if you’re not a little bit moved by its sweetness and charm and humour then you probably have a lump of coal where your heart should be.

p.s. be sure to stay and watch the credits for a special treat.

* i am still not over the wind that shakes the barley.

Karen Pickering

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