Film Review: ‘The Angel’s Share’ – Ken Loach

Ken Loach told the Canne’s audience this year, ‘Another world is possible’. His latest film The Angel’s Share, explores a tale tone that is familiar to most of us: youth unemployment and wasted talent. Loach’s collaboration with scriptwriter Paul Laverty (Route Irish, Bread and Roses, My Name Is Joe) has, once again, wonderfully contradicted a perfect world of no troubles. This time they profoundly explore a world against typical stereotypes and prized malt whisky – a metaphor (see Kes, 1969).

The Angel’s Share starts with Albert (Gary Maitland) wondering on fortified wine close to the edge of a train platform. Surprised by the voice shouting from the station’s speaker and calling him “you idiot” he luckily escapes a speeding train. The film rolls into its credits elegantly designed against the black profile background of each of the four heroes at today’s Glasgow Sheriff Court rolls: Albert, Mo, Rhino and Robbie.

All four meet again on community service but thankfully they are supervised by a man called Harry (John Henshaw), a generous soul with tough experiences in life who becomes sensitive with Robbie’s (Paul Brannigan) troubled past. When Robbie hears that his girlfriend Leonie (Siobhan Reilly) is in labour, the prospect of fatherhood not only earns him a headbutt from Leonie’s father who doesn’t want him anywhere near his daughter but also the desire to never let down his son Luke.

One day Harry offers to take his Glaswegian charges to a sacred place in the countryside – a distillery – where they learn about ‘the body of a goddess’ and ‘The Angel’s Share’. Faithfull to her habits, Mo manages to slip a few sample bottles of whisky into her bag and even though Robbie opposes her gesture he is appalled by the different tastes of the copper moonshine. When Harry takes the gang to the Rory McAllister whisky show for their next outing, Robbie’s talent in blind tasting attracted the enigmatic man called Thaddeus. They also learn that a cask of the finest whisky is to be auctioned for a fortune in the next fortnight. So, the quest for a permanent job starts: dressed in kilts with tents and Irn Bru all four of them hitchhike to the distillery on Dornoch Firth where the auction is planned to take place. Change of luck?

Unexpected surprises in Loach’s films are quite familiar. Like in his Land of Freedom (1995), when during a relaxed conversation between a militia member and one of the trainees about a woman’s body the rifle blows up against David Carr’s (Ian Hart) face, here too expect the unexpected. Director of photography, Robbie Ryan, has done a great job giving The Angel’s Share a sensitive feeling throughout its length. The soft light and ground-level camera angle in Robbie’s room inside the squat transports us to an observational level as if we’re part of the story. His close ups of the gang from the very start in the Glasgow Sheriff Court to the Malt Hill Angel’s Share etiquette of the Irn Blu bottle and the Volkswagen van just before Robbie, Leonie and Luke set off to new adventures, position the audience right inside the fable.

When Loach was asked by his distributor why this film, he replied: “Late last year, the number of unemployed young people in Britain reached over a million for the first time. We wanted to tell a story about this generation of young people, a lot of whom face an empty future. They can be pretty sure that they won’t get a job, a permanent job, a secure job. Just what effect does that have on people and how do they see themselves?”

The Angel’s Share is unmistakably an authentic journey with some good derisive jokes and is released in UK Cinemas on 1 June.

Guest Editor|Georgia Korossi – writer & curator based in London & Athens