Looking For Eric is typical Ken Loach, you should know that from the outset. If you’re not a fan of gritty social realism then this film really isn’t for you. Eric Bishop (Steve Evets) is a postman down on his luck and out of step with his life. Thirty years ago he walked away from his wife Lily (Stephanie Bishop) and his world never recovered. Now he lives on his own with his two stepsons, one of whom has links with organised crime, and has himself only a tenuous grip on reality. One day however his best friend Meatballs (John Henshaw), a compulsive reader, gets hooked on Paul McKenna self-help books and advocates confronting the person you most admire in the world. For Eric it’s French footballer Eric Cantona, except for Eric he really does conjure up a fully functional Cantona. Sounds silly? Maybe, and it’s a plot device which sits unevenly amidst the unrelenting gloom which is Eric’s life. It is however a perverse success – the more he gets to know ‘Cantona’ (artfully played by…Eric Cantona) the more the crazy footballer’s ‘wisdom’ permeates his thinking and does indeed have an effect on his behaviour. It’s a very subtle (and occasionally troubling) look at mental illness and its wider social implications, whilst at the same time offering a far from damning assessment of Eric and the choices he’s made.
Paul Laverty’s script is extremely effective, if somewhat overlong, and focuses on typical Ken Loach themes – the difficulties faced by the British working class, the horrors of mental illness, social breakdown in the early 21st century (although nowhere near as unrelentingly as Sweet Sixteen). Yet Laverty permeates the script with a good humour, occasional bursts of highly effective and very true comedy, and offers a positive, upbeat future for Eric and his dysfunctional family through the solidarity of his working class circle of friends. The message is a valid one, whether it’s Laverty’s, Loach’s or even Cantona’s – in life your teammates really are there for you, and without them you’re lost. The performances are universally excellent, from the downtrodden Evets, to his stepsons, to Eric’s postman friends and even Cantona himself – there’s something about Loach’s directorial approach which really makes you believe in what you’re watching. It isn’t always easy, but this one is without question worth persevering with. 8.5/10