The Navigators

The Navigators


Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

The title is misleading. These guys don't navigate. They mend and repair. If it wasn't for the prophetic nature of the script, with its strong political message, this might have been an hour-and-a-half pilot for a new TV series about South Yorkshire railway folk in the tradition of Boys From The Blackstuff.

Written by ex-British Rail employee Rob Dawber and directed by Old Labour stalwart Ken Loach, this is the closest you'll come to neo-realism in post-lottery UK cinema. It makes The Full Monty look like a cabaret act.

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Set during the period when British Rail was being privatised, it follows the fortunes of a gang of workers who are faced with change, as some take redundancy money and risk it on the open market, while others sit tight and play along with new management, knowing that standards are being compromised and certainties abandoned.

Building workers with no experience are taken on for low wages, while hardened professionals watch impotently. Rules of safety are ignored and the power of the union is diminished to the point of invisibility. Muddling through becomes the preferred method, because it's cheaper.

Dawber's script does not point directly at Hatfield, or Paddington, neither is the disaster that was Railtrack anticipated, but it's all there in the new working practices. The film is about people as much as anything and seems more even-handed than Loach's last, Bread And Roses. The unknown cast are magnificent, the humour and banter very Yorkshire. Unsentimental in all things, the film cuts deep into the heart of the argument, whether public services are better, or worse, under private enterprise.

At the end, you are left in anticipation. Relationships need to be resolved. Emotions hang in the balance. Now that you know a little about the lives of these men, you are denied knowledge of their future. Being a movie, there is no next week. And you don't want to say goodbye.

Reviewed on: 14 Nov 2001
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South Yorkshire railwaymen are faced with privatisation.
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Director: Ken Loach

Writer: Rob Dawber

Starring: Dean Andrews, Tom Craig, Joe Duttine, Steve Huison, Venn Tracey, Juliet Bates, Angela Saville

Year: 2001

Runtime: 95 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: UK, Germany, Spain, Italy, France


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