Is a person in their late twenties or early thirties obligated to put social justice above their own career ambitions? Do they have the right to do whatever is necessary to get ahead, and ignore the social costs? If they don't, and they are pushed aside in favor of someone else who will, are they noble or are they a sucker? These are only a few of the questions that are raised in It's a Free World, the excellent new drama from Ken Loach. The subject of the film is illegal immigration, but perceiving the near-impossibility of taking on that subject from the front, Loach has approached it from a fresh and clever angle, that of a 33 year-old London woman who operates a start-up employment agency matching up mostly Eastern European immigrants with employers in the U.K. Intensely proud of her meager independence, Angie (a breakthrough performance by newcomer Kierston Wareing) is put to the test when she discovers that for her small business to survive, she must start doing what everyone in her field does: hire illegals.
Angie has a business partner named Rose (Juliet Ellis) as well as an unsympathetic father and a troubled young son, none of whom are terribly concerned with ensuring her financial security or helping her realize her ambition to actually start a business that will go somewhere. They each have their own needs. Rose isn't presented to us as a paragon of virtue, as you might expect, but rather someone who is simply content to scrape out a living and be what she perceives as a good citizen, and call it a day. Angie, on the other hand, seems constantly propelled by some sort of trauma in her past -- either poverty or a bad living situation to which she refuses to return -- and she throws her entire mental and physical being into doing whatever is necessary to get her little employment agency off the ground. That's her state of mind when an older, seasoned businessman takes her into an office one day and lays it on the line: start bringing us illegal workers or we'll give our business to someone who will.