Even though we only had one entry from a British director in competition at Cannes this year, I can at least say that Ken Loach has done us proud. The Angels’ Share, his new film, is billed as a comedy – something of a departure for Loach – and indeed, it works perfectly slotted into that genre: there are laughs, both big and small, to be found here.
Yet the film is distinctly Loach-ian: steeped in social realism, the comedy comes mainly from the director’s sympathetic and intuitive understanding of the world that he portrays, the characters within it – how they live and how they speak, than from reel after reel of contrived set pieces and over the top gags that the blockbusters of today never cease from regurgitating.
The Angels’ Share is set in modern day Glasgow, and follows Robbie (in an incredibly authentic performance by newcomer Paul Brannigan) as a young lad who has been forced to do community service after an assault. However, he is in a stable relationship with a very kind and mature young woman and will soon become a father. From there, the film follows Robbie through questions of how he wishes to change his life, the setbacks that he faces (having grown up on the wrong side of the tracks) and the ‘adventure’ he gets himself into involving an incredibly rare cask of whisky, an auction and some gleefully ignorant and pretentious (but very rich) ‘connoisseurs’.
The thing I found most impressive about The Angels’ Share is how, despite its uplifting story and venture into classic, quintessentially British crime comedy (of the kind that Ealing used to do so well), Loach always stays true to the realism underpinning it. Sections of the movie (particularly at the start) are harrowing to watch, and Loach – although sympathetic – does not delude himself about his characters and their traits.
That said, though, this is immensely entertaining and heartfelt cinema, and it is a truly gifted craftsman who can blend this with the grittier side of life while never straying into cloying sentimentality or cheap, cheesy dialogue. For lovers of that great 90s film The Full Monty, here is another movie made in the same spirit; not a masterpiece, but full of heart and good humour. I recommend it highly.