A wee heart-warming dram of Scots spirit flows beautifully through Ken Loach’s new comedy drama, The Angels’ Share, as the director surprises all by tapping into his wittier side in his latest film. However, fans should not be wary as his particular brand of socialist realism is never far from the surface, brewing in menacing form, and keeping the surreal adventures of Robbie and co very much grounded.
In fact, in semi-documentary-style, Loach opens his film with a cynical courtroom introduction to the bunch of reprobates – petty thieves, thugs and those too stupid to know any better – who will go on to entertain us for the next 101 minutes. We meet hothead Robbie (Paul Brannigan), a first-time dad-to-be who narrowly escapes prison, sticky-fingered Mo (Jasmin Riggins) and fellow community service pals Rhino (William Ruane) and the thick-as-pig-sh*te Albert (Gary Maitland) who all discover a new passion for whisky after an unsupervised visit to a local distillery organised by big-hearted mentor Harry (John Henshaw). But even though this new passion inspires Robbie to turn over a new leaf for the sake of his newborn son, it doesn’t stop his inner rogue concocting the most expensive spirit heist to make a few bob, so him and his mates can escape their hopeless, humdrum lives.
Think Trainspotting for ‘love-but-loathe-em’ companionship value, to the point that you half expect Robbie and co to utter the infamous line “it’s no natural” on a countryside visit. The strength of Loach’s characters is their self-perceived bad lot in life, pushing back against society’s views, and hence uniting them against the odds, as well as making for intriguing inter personality clashes. Trust is a major factor – both for the characters themselves and us in reaction to them – that develops at a natural pace within the narrative, with the obvious outcome of us rooting for them to see some good fortune come their way, however despicable them might be as individuals. Loach still champions the underdog, however ‘damaged’, and Angels’ Share is a uncompromising political cry but a side-splitting and seriously funny one.
In addition to an incredible first-time performance by talented Brannigan, screenwriter Paul Laverty gives Loach’s oddballs some wonderfully sardonic lines to deliver – the best being with reference to the iconic Edinburgh Castle and Scotland’s biggest export (not whisky). There is such a natural effort to the leads’ performances that it’s hard to believe you’re not watching a reality TV episode sometimes. But Loach’s careful direction employs just the right balance of dramatic screen dynamics and tension and credibility, without losing any of his fabled realism.
(For those of us outside of Glasgow), once you’ve tuned into the accents, this bunch of foolish but disarmingly charming delinquents is one you really want to invest time in and give a second chance to – if not to prove the system wrong. With education comes (abuse of) power, and this heady, poignant mixture combined with the cast’s silky smooth delivery makes The Angels’ Share – a reference to whisky evaporation during maturation in the cask – a rich fermentation of the best of British comedy filmmaking with a greater social agenda.