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Carla’s Song is the latest film by acclaimed British director Ken Loach, whose Land and Freedom was one of the most enthusiastically received films of 1995, winning a number of prizes (including the International Critics’ Prize at Cannes, and the Felix as Best European Film of the Year.) Louise Keller compiles and edits the notes on the background.

Paul Laverty, the former Glasgow lawyer who wrote the screenplay of Carla’s Song, was no stranger to Latin America. In addition to travelling extensively in Guatemala and San Salvador, he had spent two and a half years in Nicaragua in the mid-eighties, working with Government human rights organisations, and experiencing, at first hand, the realities of the war. "I was writing lots of articles for small human rights organisation," recalls Laverty, "and eventually, I decided ‘That’s it! I’ve really got to try and get a story out to a bigger audience!’ In my naivety, I decided I would try and write a film script."

"He was clearly a terrific writer," Ken Loach on Paul Laverty

Loach received Laverty’s first draft screen, while he was cutting Riff-Raff. "I wrote to Ken about six years ago out of the blue." Laverty recalled on the Glasgow set of the film, "and he said, ‘Let’s meet up and have a good chat’."

"Writing is about investigating possibilities", Paul Laverty

"He was clearly a terrific writer," says the director, "but he was also somebody I thought it would be very good to work with. We talked about how we could devise a story that would be within our range financially, and also one that would have somebody speaking English at the heart of it."

"With Ken, it’s about emotional honesty in all the characters," Paul Laverty

With support from the Scottish Film Production fund and the European Script Fund, Laverty and Loach collaborated on the screenplay off and on for some three years. "It’s very simple," he says with a laugh. "What we did was, I’d send Ken the script, and then he’d get a big red pen and go through it, page by page. He’d ask questions and make you justify every dot and question. And then you’d have a good argument about it and throw it up in the air. Then I’d go away and write another version, and we’d do the same process. Writing is about investigating possibilities, so I get a real excitement out of facing those sorts of problems. With Ken, it’s about emotional honesty in all the characters.

"But it became plain, really, that you had to go there - you had to go to Nicaragua to tell the story." Ken Loach

"Originally we wondered whether it would be possible to tell the whole thing from the point of view of a Nicaraguan refugee," recalls Loach of their early discussions. "But it became plain, really, that you had to go there - you had to go to Nicaragua to tell the story." Which is how the storyline that became Carla’s Song was born.

Following the international success of Priest, in which he played the lover, Robert Carlyle has become a household name in Britain for his award-winning performance as the title character in the TV series, Hamish Macbeth. When Loach went to Glasgow in mid-1995 to cast the part of George, he got in touch with Carlyle and they did talk about the new film. A little later on Loach asked Carlyle to come in and do some improvisation with Oyanka Cabezas, the young Nicaraguan dancer who had been cast in the title role.

"I wanted to see how he would get on with Oyanka," Ken Loach

"Actually," admits Loach, "I wanted to see how he would get on with Oyanka. I didn’t need to test his ability, because I knew what he could do. Besides we were already friends." A couple of weeks later, Loach called Carlyle and offered him the part. "I was completely shocked," says the actor.

"I was completely shocked," Robert Carlyle on being offered the role

Loach’s way of working, only revealing to his actors what they would know as characters at the time a particular scene was shot and never letting them read the screenplay in advance, ensured that Carlyle’s own experience of the country was not that different from George’s. He was deeply affected by going to Nicaragua, experiencing much the same enforced eye-opening as does his character.

"The great thing about Bobby’s performance," says Loach, "is that he performs with a lot of generosity. Oyanka needed help with the language and help from the person playing opposite her. He was immensely generous and drew that performance out of her. He encouraged her and made space for her and gave her emotional support."

"I feel very, very close to Carla, even though I never had these kinds of experiences." Oyanka Cabezas

For Oyanka Cabezas, a 24 year old dancer with Danza Contemporanea de Camara, this is the first time she has played she has ever had to act in English. Her first reaction when asted to attend a casting session for Loach’s film was to refuse. "I wasn’t really interested," she says, "because I don’t speak English and I am not really an actress." She went along nonetheless, together with 50 other aspiring Nicaraguan film stars. A year and a half later, in July 1995, she arrived in England for an intensive course in English, a language in which - like the character she plays - she had made only limited progress by the time shooting began four months later.

"I feel very, very close to Carla, even though I never had these kinds of experiences. I think it is because I, Oyanka, am representing my country."

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CAST: Robert Carlyle, Oyanka Cabezas, Scott Glenn


PRODUCER: Sally Hibben

SCRIPT: Paul Laverty



MUSIC: George Fenton


RUNNING TIME: 127 minutes






International Critics Prize, Cannes 1995;

The Felix - Best European Film, 1995


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