The Angels’ Share * * * *


Director: Ken Loach.
Screenplay: Paul Laverty.
Starring: Paul Brannigan, John Henshaw, William Ruane, Gary Maitland, Jasmin Riggins, Roger Allam, Siobhan Reilly, David Goodall, James Casey, Joy McAvoy.

After “One More Kiss” and “Dear Frankie“, the film that concludes my little Scottish trilogy of reviews is the 12th collaboration between director Ken Loach and writer Paul Laverty. Their previous efforts have been mostly very successful films and have largely dealt with the hardships of Scottish working class lifestyles. This is another slice of that life and yet another little treasure.

Young Glaswegian Robbie (Paul Brannigan) is sentenced to community service for repeatedly offending. He has a baby on the way and finds himself in a continual circle of violence with his girlfriend’s father but he’s desperate for a way out of his life of crime. He is taken under the wing of social worker Harry (John Henshaw) who teaches him the appreciation of fine malt Whiskies. It’s only then, Robbie discovers a distillery that’s home to a rare Scotch Whisky worth thousands of pounds and involves his friends to take some for themselves.

There is a Scots Gaelic way of referring to the alcoholic beverage Whisky and that is “Uisge Beatha“, literally translating as ‘Water of Life‘. This name, in itself, could be a perfect title for this film (and it’s themes) but Loach has gone and conjured up another one: When Whisky is matured over the years there’s some that escapes from the casket and evaporates into thin air, never to be tasted or seen again. This is referred to as “The Angels’ Share” and, on reflection, is a fitting title for the story.
Loach is one of those directors that has a perfect sense of realism. It just courses right through his films; from the storyline, through the setting to the authentic dialogue and untrained actors. This is no different and it shares a similar theme to two of his and Paul Laverty’s earlier collaborations: “My Name Is Joe” and “Sweet Sixteen“, in terms of a struggling protagonist trying to break free from his brutal environment and make a life for himself. What this has, that those two didn’t, is a sense of humour and a delicate, lightness of touch. It doesn’t get bogged down in the kitchen-sink mentality that you’d expect but breaks free from that mould to become a lighthearted caper movie. Don’t get me wrong, Loach still has the power of gritty authenticity and on a few occasions he displays that but like the beverage they are concerned about in the film, it has a nice balance; it manages to be both rough and smooth. Glasgow is depicted as a brutal environment with damaged disillusioned youths and Loach’s eye for locations and mostly untrained actors is ever present. All the performers deliver admirable and, in some cases, excellent work. A talent that Loach has shown over the years is his ability in finding these quality young actors. In a lot of ways he’s become somewhat of a pioneer for Scottish cinema – the city of Glasgow in particular. No film set in Scotland’s largest city would be complete without the humour though and in this case Loach and Laverty capture the idiom perfectly, delivering regular and balanced humour.

A slight change of pace from Ken Loach and more upbeat than fans of his will be accustomed to but he manages the understatement very well and delivers one of his most feel-good films to date.

Mark Walker


25 Responses to “The Angels’ Share * * * *”

  1. Great post Mark,


  2. That final photo is priceless! lol! Great review as always Mark. Yet another film I’m unfamiliar with that I can hunt out on Netflix. I’ve quite enjoyed your Scottish movie threesome. I’m always looking for help in discovering new stuff.


    • Yeah, it’s a nice moment in the film that final photo. I hope you can get around to them Keith. All three are very different films and I just hope that they get a little more attention. Scotland produce some great little movies but it’s just unfortunate that they don’t travel very far.


  3. Thanks for the introduction to this film and director. I like finding films I never heard of before.


    • Thanks for stopping by and for the follow Victor. It’s always nice to have more opinions on board. If you’re unfamiliar with Ken Loach, you should really check his stuff out. He’s done an abundance of films throughout the years dealing with working class British lifestyles. Most recently a lot of his films have been set in Scotland but he’s covered a lot of ground from many countries and struggles. It’s authentic, low-budget and powerful filmmaking.


  4. Not wanting to spoil anything I’ll wait to read your reviews of the trilogies until after I see them. I’ll try to get to them this week and then get back to you then.

    My girlfriend is taking me to see the original Halloween on the big screen on Tuesday. Should be fun.


    • That’s commitment indeed Dave. Thanks for the show of confidence man. I hope you like them.

      Halloween on the big screen eh? That should be something. I just done a rewatch of another Carpenter film myself last night… “In The Mouth of Madness”.


      • I remember seeing In The Mouth of Madness in the theater. How does it hold up? Hellraiser and Nightmare On Elm Street didn’t hold up well for me at all. I wasn’t that big a fan of Friday the 13th. We’ll see about Halloween.


      • It’s funny you mention A nightmare on Elm Street. That was the film I watched after it. Elm Street didn’t hold up very well for me either. Mouth of Madness wasn’t bad man. I remember it being better but still a good flick. Wasn’t overly keen on Friday 13th myself. Let me know how Halloween goes though, I’ve been thinking about a rewatch.


  5. The thing about Halloween is it had a great “final girl” in Jamie Lee Curtis and Carpenter’s score was so memorable. It’s up there with The Exorcist’s “Tubular Bells” for me. So I am looking forward to it.


    • I love Carpenter’s scores. They play a massive part in his films. That was something that I thought was lacking in Mouth of Madness. His score wasn’t as memorable as it normally is and as a result, the film felt like it was missing it.


  6. ray brayne Says:

    Enjoyed this alot. Reminds me a great deal of Mike Leigh’s work like you mentioned yesterday. Leigh uses more established actors but lets them improvise for a real life feel. In “Angel’s Share” if it weren’t for the appearance of Roger Allam I thought they were Glasgow denizens, not actors at all. The one hurdle to overcome, outside of the Scots tongue, is how the coordinator Harry thought it a good idea to take a bus load of probationers to a distillery for an outing! Then again this is the land of Scotch! Here’s a bit of trivia(I know you’re a fan) in the states, Scotch is the highest taxed item of all imports! I should know, I’ve got a small oak cask infusing Rob Roys waiting to be tapped at Christmas. I’m glad I tapped this movie. Nice, unbiased, review Mark!


    • I love Leigh’s approach on that front Ray. He allows improvisation to the point of sheer creativity amongst his performers. That can’t be beaten. Loach on the other hand, is more experimental and i’ll never forget the advertisements that I used to regularly see around Glasgow for budding (untrained) actors to audition. He likes to keep it real and if the opportunity arises again I might just take it.

      I wasn’t aware of the tax deal there Ray. Thanks for the info. That’s very interesting.

      As it goes – you mention Rob Roy – I traced my ancestors back for years to find out what kilt (or plaid) I should traditionally wear. My second name (Walker) is actually the profession of people that made the tartan. It was known as “walking” the tartan. Much like like a fuller, tailor, cooper or smith. The second name was reflective of their profession. Anyway, I digress… The walker tartan is very hard to come by so when I looked into it, I should really be wearing the tartan McGregor as any neighbouring clan should wear the tartan of their predominant kinsfolk. As it is, my family can be traced back to the clan McGregor and Rob Roy….


  7. Terrific review, Mark! I am a big fan of Ken Loach’s movies (I included Sweet Sixteen and Kes on a recent list of favorite “coming of age” movies). This one sounds really good.

    LOVE that final photo. 🙂


    • Thanks Stephanie. It’s not Loach’s best work but it’s a good change of pace from him and one that took me by surprise. It has faults but still worthy of attention.

      Kes is an absolute classic and Sweet Sixteen was excellent but my favourite of his would probably be My Name Is Joe. It’s hard hitting but an excellent film.


  8. Ok so I got to see this one although sadly with no subtitles. I got the gist of it though. It would make a great triple bill with Sideways and Bottle Shock. I’ve added all of Loach’s films that are on Netflix into my queue. The only other film I had seen (and forgot) from Loach was Hidden Agenda. I probably saw it becuase the video stores here carried it because it had American leads (Doriff, McDormamd and Cox, even though he’s Scottish he’s pretty much made his name here). Not bad overall. It didn’t stay with me like Dear Frankie did. One Last Kiss is next.


    • I haven’t seen Hidden Agenda and there are quite a few others that I’ve still to see as well. This was by no means Loach’s finest work but a welcome change of tone from him. He’s normally very downbeat. It’s good you got the gist if it but I found a lot of humour in the Scots dialect. I’ll be very interested to hear more of your thoughts on some other Loach films Dave. Good man.


      • You know I’m usually pretty good with dialects and slang from the the isle. I watch more BBC and Channel 4 than I do our major networks ABC, NBC, CBS, FOX, etc. over here. I’m also a sucker for the panel shows. Especially when David Mitchell (Mitchel and Webb Look) is on them. The really have a go at the government, the royals and other celebs that we just don’t really see here in America other than John Stewart or Bill Maher.

        Like I said on a previous post Ricky Gervais was almost run out of Hollywood for his first Golden Globes hosting gig where he basically roasted the actors. Personally I laughed my ass off but critics were like “how could he attack them?” Celebs weild a lot of power over here. Way too much idol worship going on if you ask me. After all we’re the country that gave the world The Kardashians, Paris Hilton, Snooki and The Jersey Shore Cast and Lindsay Lohan. Oh the shame. Then again Britain gave us The Spice Girls, Russell Brand, Sharon Osbourne and Simon Cowell so I guess were pretty even. LOL.


      • The thing I love with Loach though is his authenticity to wherever he’s setting his story. A lot of Glasgow humour could be found in this film.

        And yeah, we’ve delivered enough dross over here as well. We’re not that far behind yourselves in term of the status of celebrities. I find it a bit disgusting and that’s why I love Gervais and the like…


  9. Leila Corrieri Says:

    I laughed out loud, I cringed, I gasped in horror, I had a tear in my eye and even covered my eyes as not to look. More importantly I grinned from ear to ear. Another wee gem from Ken Loach.


    • Aah! Glad to hear it Leila. It has a little of everything. I wasn’t expecting as much humour as it had. Loach tends to be more bleak but it was a welcome change of direction from him. Glad you enjoyed it. Bet it took you back home for a bit?


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