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Route Irish

Production Crew

Director:Ken Loach

Writer: Paul Laverty

Producer: Rebecca O'Brien

Composer: George Fenton

Editor: Jonathan Morris

DOP: Chris Menges

Production Designer: Fergus Clegg


Fergus: Mark Womack

Rachel: Andrea Lowe

Frankie: John Bishop


We are all familiar with the ritual of the body of a dead soldier returning from foreign soil; solemn music, the national flag, escorts and salutes recorded in detail by the nation’s media. Words of consolation flow from politicians and generals to broken-hearted relatives, many so young they often clutch infants. It wasn’t quite that way for Deely, the sister of Robert, an ex-Paratrooper who was ambushed in Iraq. He was flown back from Kuwait and arrived at Glasgow airport. The undertaker told Deely there were ten bodies on the plane that day, two of which were unidentifiable. Robert’s coffin looked “like a big orange crate”. There was no fanfare, no union jack, no journalists and not one question. His death, as far as we know, wasn’t added to any list. The reason is simple. Robert was no longer a Paratrooper, but a private contractor. Some call them private soldiers, or Corporate warriors, or security consultants. Iraqis call them mercenaries.

The business of war is being privatised slowly and deliberately before our eyes. Robert’s orange crate of a coffin tells us so, as do the statistics. Patrick Cockburn, a well respected commentator on Iraq, estimated that there were around 160,000 foreign contractors in Iraq at the height of the occupation, many of whom, perhaps as many as 50,000, were heavily armed security personnel. The conduct of the war, and occupation afterwards, would have been impossible without their muscle.

Thanks to Paul Bremer, the US appointed head of the Coalition Provisional Authority each and every one of those contractors was given immunity from Iraqi law in the shape of Order 17 which was imposed on the new Iraqi Parliament. (Order 17 lasted from 2003 till the beginning of 2009.)

Nobody is interested in counting how many Iraqi civilians have been killed or injured by private contractors, but there is a vast body of evidence to suggest that there has been widespread abuse. Blackwater’s massacre of 17 civilians in the middle of Baghdad was the most notorious incident, but there were many more that went unreported. One senior contractor told me, on condition of anonymity, that he spoke to a South African who told him killing an Iraqi was just like “shooting a Kafir”. Other bone fide contractors, proud of their professionalism, told me of their disgust at the violence of “the cowboys”. If a contractor was involved in an incident which caused a fuss, they were whisked out of the country by their company. Impunity, by order.

While lowly contractors gambled with lives and limbs on Route Irish, the Chief executives of those same companies made fortunes. Mr David Lesar, chief executive of Halliburton, (former CEO being Dick Cheney) earned just under 43 million dollars in 2004. Mr Gene Ray of Titan earned over 47 million between 2004 and 2005. Mr JP London of CACI earned 22 million. The devil is always in the detail. Private contractors charged the US army up to 100 dollars to do a single soldier’s laundry bag. In an official report dated January 2005 the Special Investigator General for Iraq Reconstruction Stuart Bowen revealed that over 9 billion dollars had disappeared in fraud and corruption, and that was only during a very limited period of the Provisional Authority. Financial impunity too.

As one contractor told me the “place stank of money”. Little wonder poorly paid soldiers and elite Special Forces left in such numbers to join these private military corporations, as they saw their chance of a life time “to load up”.

These men “load up” with more than cash.

We are now used to seeing images of carnage and slaughter “over there.” We are accustomed to stories of missing billions, corporate greed, abuse, torture, and secret prisons. The Lancet’s detailed conclusions of a million dead in Iraq are almost beyond the mind’s capacity to grasp. It all seems now at a safe distance in time and place. Iraq fatigue, we are told, is upon us.

But “over there” is on its way back home. Iraq is inside the heads of “our boys”.

I was stunned to learn from the charity Combat Stress that deals with ex soldiers suffering from Post Traumatic Stress syndrome that on average, it takes approximately 17 years for PTSS to manifest itself. They are bracing themselves (as is the US army) for a massive surge in the years to come.

Norma, a gentle nurse on the point of retiring who had spent years with ex-soldiers, opened the way for this story when she told me “many of these men are in mourning for their former selves.” An ex-soldier showed me a painting he had drawn of himself. “I just want my old self back.”

Order 17 may have been revoked in Iraq but its spirit still reigns supreme: the stink of impunity, the lies, the contempt for international law, the undermining of the Geneva conventions, the secret prisons, the torture, the murder……the million dead. As I imagine the intellectual authors of the above, Bush, Blair, Rumsfeld and co collecting their millions in after dinner speeches and setting up their interfaith foundations I cannot help but think of the nurses in Falujah assisting the births of babies born with two heads and deformed faces thanks to the chemical bombs rained on that city. Our gift to the future.

So we wondered about Order 17 back home.

Iraq, in an English country garden.

PL – 11th May 2010.

Short Synopsis

Liverpool, August 1976. 5-year-old Fergus met Frankie on his first day at school. They've been in each others' shadow ever since. As teenagers they skipped school and drank cider on the ferry over the River Mersey, dreaming about travelling the world. Little did Fergus realise his dream would come true as a highly trained member of the UK's elite special forces, the SAS.

After resigning in September 2004, Fergus persuaded Frankie (by now an ex-Para) to join his security team in Baghdad.

Production Crew Notes

KEN LOACH – Director

The challenge is always to find the microcosm that suggests the bigger picture; the unresolved conflict, the contradiction that, when explored, reveals the landscape.


After LOOKING FOR ERIC we felt it was important to make something serious and uncompromising and our French partners on that film, Pascal Caucheteux at Why Not and Vincent Maraval at Wild Bunch, were willing to support us fully. It was excellent to be able to work with them again, the financing became simple and straight forward and it gave me the opportunity to concentrate on the production. Our other regular European partners came on board along with North West Vision in the UK.

We filmed in Jordan for the Iraq scenes – not only did The Royal Jordanian Film Commission prove very supportive in setting up the production but there are many Iraqi refugees there who were able to work with us as supporting cast. Their truly harrowing stories brought the truth of what we were filming into close perspective. It was a joy to work in Liverpool again – it’s a really manageable city full of wily characters and charm.

Cast Notes

FERGUS – Mark Womack

“Ken has you do a lot of research. He'll have you meet a lot of people that might be similar to the character. You have a lot of conversations that might be useful and read a lot about the world the character lives in, so when the scenes are thrown at you, you've met contractors and heard all their stories and you can build the character from that. You also spend a lot of time with the characters you're going to work with and you bond with them. I went to army boot camp with John Bishop who plays Frankie and Trevor who plays Nelson so I got to know them quite well. We were already comfortable with each other by the time it came to filming. I was upset on the first day to be told John was dead, I felt pretty much how I imagine it feels to lose a friend. John was great because he knew all along and he kept it quiet.

Fergus is on a path of self-destruction like many of the soldiers I met with combat stress. One of the guys I met said you go in the army and they turn you on, but nobody turns you off. How can you go from seeing what you've seen in Iraq and Afghanistan to shopping in Sainsbury's with the wife and kids. Some guys can adjust, but a lot of them can't.”

RACHEL – Andrea

“I'd seen most of Ken's films and I thought, like a lot of people perhaps, that they are improvisation based. But they're not, there's a beautiful script. Where the improvisation comes in is in the development of the character.

Sometimes you know parts of the script that the other actors don't, but you don't ask them and they wouldn't tell you because we all really enjoy the process. It ensures that your reactions are natural and keeps things fresh and spontaneous and so as an actor you don't over analyse. The essence of Ken's films is the truth in people and this film is about broken people.

When we were working on the back story we established that Rachel had met Fergus first and she's had a bit of a wild past and been into the music scene and travelled around a lot, she's just decided to become a personal trainer and she's into her yoga and they met in a gym. He's dark and moody and she would perhaps have gone for it with him in the past, but she's at a time in her life when that's not what she wants, so there's an unfulfilled attraction between them. Fergus introduces her to Frankie and she falls for him, he's big and light and fun. After Frankie dies Fergus is in a dark place and can't let her in to save him. They can't rescue each other, it's tragic.”

Clip Rights Notes

International press/sales enquiries: Wild Bunch

UK press/screening enquiries: Artificial Eye

Clip licensing: Sixteen Films