Carla's Song

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Carla's Song
Directed by Ken Loach
Produced by Sally Hibbin
Written by Paul Laverty
Starring Robert Carlyle, Oyanka Cabezas, Scott Glenn
Narrated by Stephen Fry
Music by George Fenton
Cinematography Barry Ackroyd
Edited by Jonathan Morris
Distributed by Universal Pictures (UK) Ltd, PolyGram Filmed Entertainment, PolyGram Video Ltd
Release date
31 January 1997 (UK)
Running time
126 minutes
Country United Kingdom
Language English

Carla's Song is a 1996 British film, directed by Ken Loach and written by Paul Laverty, that deals with the impact of the Contra War.


Set in 1987, Carla's Song tells the story of love in a time of war. The plot follows the relationship between a Scottish bus driver, George Lennox (Robert Carlyle) and Carla (Oyanka Cabezas), a Nicaraguan refugee living in Glasgow. George first encounters Carla when she sneaks onto his bus without paying the fare. They go out for coffee but Carla seems hesitant to tell George anything about her life or where she's from. When Carla needs a place to stay George arranges for her to stay at his friend's place.

Later George returns to his friend's flat and finds Carla in the bathtub where she has slit her wrists. George takes her to the hospital where he learns that Carla also attempted suicide three weeks ago. George stays by Carla's side in the hospital while she is recovering.

Carla later explains that she read letters from her boyfriend, Antonio (Richard Loza), which she had never been able to open before. She was so horrified by the content of the letters that she tried to take her own life. Carla tells him that she doesn't know what happened her boyfriend Antonio or to her family and asks George to hold her. She appears to be haunted by her past and suffering the effects of posttraumatic stress disorder.

George decides they need to return to a war-torn Nicaragua to find out what happened to Antonio and Carla's family. George begins to learn and about the U.S.-sponsored Contra insurgency against the Sandinistas. When they return to Nicaragua, they find Bradley, a U.S. citizen who is working as an aid worker and helping other U.S. citizens document human rights abuses conducted by the Contras. Bradley claims that he doesn't know the whereabouts of Carla's boyfriend and says that he will be heading North soon and that Carla should join him.

While Carla and George are taking a truck to the North of the country, the truck engine overheats and explodes in a burst of steam making a sound resembling gunfire. Carla completely breaks down and becomes catatonic when she hears this, and George tries to comfort her. Bradley happens by in a 4x4 and offers to take them off the truck and give them a ride while attempting to calm Carla down.

Bradley later admits that Antonio has been staying with. Carla tells Bradley that he needs to let go of his past, which he seems to be struggling with also. Carla has terrible night horrors where she relives the experience of being in the revolution and their group being attacked by the Contras. In the nightmare, Carla is shot in the back several times yet manages to flee while the Contras descend on Antonio who falls after being shot. Carla's watches on in horror from some bushes.

On the way to Carla's family, a group of Sandinistas warns them that there are Contra fighters in the area. Carla finds her family and introduces George to them. Later that night, heavily armed Contras attack the village. The Contras kill many people and huge explosions go off around the village, while Sandinista villagers return fire.

In the morning George discovers that Carla and Antonio have a baby daughter. George asks Carla to return to Glasgow with him and bring the baby, but Carla refuses. George meets Bradley who seems absolutely incensed. Bradley explained that the Contras, who are operating out of Honduras, are a CIA-organized and funded group. Bradley then explains how Antonio was captured by the Contras, who used CIA torture methods. The Contras cut out Antonio's tongue, broke his spine in several places with rifle butts leaving him paralysed, and poured acid on his face, all while Carla watched from her hiding place in the bushes.

George breaks down when he hears what Carla has suffered through and runs to find her. George finds Carla's family who gives him a letter which Carla left for him. The letter says that Carla is heading north to find Antonio, and implies she may try to take her own life again. George steals a bus and Bradley joins him to help find Carla. They head to Bradley's village and find Carla in a room curled up and terrified of reuniting with Antonio. George encourages her to visit Antonio and explains that she will have to do this alone, that he can't do it with her.

Antonio is sitting on a stool in Bradley's house, a guitar in hand. Antonio's face is severely disfigured from the acid mutilation. Antonio reaches out to Carla and begins to play his guitar. Carla sings her song in accompaniment with the guitar, suggesting that they may reunite. George prepares to return to Glasgow.


The film was nominated for both the Alexander Korda Award for Best British Film at the 1997 BAFTA Awards[1] and for Best Feature Film at the 1997 BAFTA Awards, Scotland. Ken Loach won the President of the Italian Senate's Gold Medal at the 1996 Venice Film Festival.[2] The film also won the Coral Award for Best Work of a Non-Latin American Director on a Latin America Subject at the 1996 Havana Film Festival.[3] In 1998 Robert Carlyle won the Evening Standard British Film Award for Best Actor[4] for his performance, as well as the 1998 London Critics Circle Film Awards British Actor of the Year Award.[5]

The film has an average rating of 6.7 out of 10 on Rotten Tomatoes, as of October 3, 2017. The film has an audience score of 80%, based on 2,301 user ratings, on Rotten Tomatoes, as of October 3, 2017.[6]


Awards and nominations[edit]

Award Category Name Outcome
BAFTA Awards, 1997 Alexander Korda Award for Best British Film Ken Loach and Sally Hibbin Nominated
BAFTA Awards, Scotland 1997 Best Feature Film Ken Loach, Sally Hibbin, Paul Laverty Nominated
Camerimage, 1996 Golden Frog Barry Ackroyd Nominated
Evening Standard British Film Award, 1998 Best Actor Robert Carlyle Won
Havana Film Festival, 1996 Best Work of a Non-Latin American Director on a Latin America Subject Ken Loach Won
London Critics Circle Film Awards, 1998 British Actor of the Year Robert Carlyle Won
Venice Film Festival, 1996 The President of the Italian Senate's Gold Medal Ken Loach Won
Venice Film Festival, 1996 Golden Lion Ken Loach Nominated


  1. ^ "Alexander Korda Award for the outstanding British Film of the Year in 1997". BAFTA. British Academy of Film and Television Awards. Retrieved October 2, 2017.
  2. ^ "1996 VENICE FILM FESTIVAL AWARDS". Retrieved October 2, 2017.
  3. ^ "Ken Loach - Director". FilmReference. Retrieved October 2, 2017.
  4. ^ "Robert Carlyle". Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. Retrieved October 2, 2017.
  5. ^ "1998 LONDON FILM CRITICS CIRCLE AWARDS". AwardsAndWinners. Retrieved October 2, 2017.
  6. ^ "Carla's Song". RottenTomatoes. Retrieved October 2, 2017.

External links[edit]