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.