What has happened to Ken Loach? This is a man known for his depressing films about the working class in the U.K and all of their suffering, so what is he doing making a film that is a combination of comedy and heist? Has the man gone soft in his old age? I doubt it, but it is nice to see him exploring the lighter side of life in his impressive new film “The Angels' Share”.
New father Robbie is on his last chance, both with the law and his girlfriend. If he messes up once more, he will be left with nothing and sent to prison. Knowing the consequences are dire if he doesn’t change, Robbie vows to turn over a new leaf and become a better man and father to his young son. While performing various tasks to complete his community service hours given to him for punishment of a crime, he meets Harry who is like a caretaker for the people doing community service. In Harry, Robbie finds a mentor in his new life, someone to look up to, and the first person to ever give him another chance. Through his friendship with Harry he starts to become involved in appreciating whiskeys and finds out that he actually has a very sensitive nose and is great a differentiating between different types. One day while out on a trip to a whiskey tasting with Harry, along with his friends he has made while doing community service, they hear about an extremely rare cask of whiskey that is about to be auctioned. Hearing that the cask itself would command well over a million pounds, Robbie and his mates decide they are going to steal the whiskey, and set themselves up for life.
I am not the biggest Ken Loach fan, I will admit, so I wasn’t really looking forward to this film too much. His films are usually too depressing and he often spotlights ugly (via their actions not appearance) characters in the lead. “The Angels' Share” had me from its hilarious opening scene at the train station. Right from this moment, I knew I was going to enjoy the film and I was immediately surprised by how funny it was with just one scene. Do not panic all you Loach fans, he hasn’t totally abandoned his social commentary on how bad it is in the U.K because there is a far patch in the middle of “The Angels' Share” which acts more like a traditional drama. In this section Robbie fears about being able to leave his past life behind because no matter how much he wants to, his past and the people in it refuse to let him go. It is actually pretty powerful as we feel Robbie’s despair and worry, like himself, that he actually wont be able to get out of this life.
The film also has a lot of heart in it which is shown mainly through the character of Harry, a man who is willing to give someone a second chance. John Henshaw’s performance is fantastic as he plays him as a quiet man who likes the small things in life, and you can see him actually enjoying Robbie’s company and their shared passion, after being initially cautious of him. There is a fantastic moment at the end of the film when Robbie pays Harry back for all of the faith he had in him. It is such a touching moment and you can feel that Harry is both proud and touched by the gesture.
Paul Brannigan, who plays Robbie, brings a real weight and believability to the role, you can tell that he is now in this for the long haul for the sake of his new family, but at the same time you can see the fear in his eyes that he wont be able to live up to his promise. Brannigan brings a likability to the role as well so it is easy to root for him and hope that everything goes right. During the film we get a flashback to the kind of person Robbie used to be, and again, Brannigan makes it so believable, he turns into a vicious animal with crazy in his eyes. You can see why he has been in so much trouble and just how much he has to do to turn around his life.
The rest of the cast, Robbie’s friends from community service, are all great too. They are all given individual personalities, both good and bad, but we care for them all. A special mention must go to Gary Maitland who plays the seriously dumb Albert and is the main core of the comedy in the film. He is just hilarious throughout (obviously a lot of credit must go to Paul Laverty’s sharp script too), but besides him there are a lot of funny set-pieces including one that involves a spit bucket during a tasting, and another with a motorbike suffering from a case of mistaken identity.
Overall, I was very pleasantly surprised by “The Angels' Share” (which is what the 2% of whiskey that evaporates out of a cask per year is referred as) by its humour, heart and uplifting drama, it was definitely unlike the normal Ken Loach film but quite brilliant none the less. The only issue I really had with the film is the strong accents throughout. Normally after a few minutes of a film my ear gets attuned to most accents, but there were times throughout “The Angels' Share” that I struggled to understand exactly what was being said. I suppose in the end it didn’t really affect my enjoyment of the film very much at all because I thought “The Angels' Share” was a little gem.