The Angel’s Share
Ken Loach has been making films for nearly 45 years, and unlike many of his contemporaries (yes, you, Woody), his movies are still getting better. His latest offering manages to be warm, funny, sweet, scary, truthful and powerful. This is a film that anyone can enjoy, especially if they can decipher thick Glaswegian accents.
The Angel's Share refers to the 2% of liquid that evaporates every year from a cask of whisky as it matures, which is an appropriate name for a film which centres around whisky, some of which may (or many not) at some point disappear.
Robbie is a young man whose life prior to the beginning of the film has been one problem after another, culminating in a spell in prison for GBH. He's up before the magistrate again, but this time he's shown leniency because his girlfriend Leonie is about to have a baby, and Robbie is determined to make a better fist of things – by not using his fists. Trouble is, he has a lot of enemies, notably Leonie's dad who loathes and despises him, and some other guys with whom he has a longstanding and inexplicable family feud. Even if Robbie has given up violence, these guys haven't.
Fortunately there is a guardian angel to hand in the unlikely shape of Harry, the middle aged guy who is in charge of the community work that Robbie has been sentenced to. Harry takes his crew to a whisky distillery, where Robbie turns out to have an unexpected knack for the hard stuff – not the drinking of it, but telling different brands apart. This in turn leads to a wheeze (aka crime) which may help to turn Robbie's life around.
Loach has an undeserved reputation for making films that are dour, worthy and depressing, but this is to misread the man. His films with scriptwriter Paul Laverty over the last dozen years have embraced all manner of genres, and no one could accuse Looking For Eric of being dull. What Laverty and Loach manage so skilfully to achieve is to weave realism and entertainment into a combination that fulfils an audience's need for complexity and authenticity. An Angel's Share is a case in point. Robbie's life is undoubtedly tough and risky; he lives without work, and under threat of violence. Yet his friend Albert could come straight from a TV comedy, with his idiot questions and observations, and in the second half of the film humour is given full rein.
Equally, as with so many of Loach's films, there is an underlying sweetness and a belief in the redeeming power of love. Robbie's relationship with Leonie and new son, Luke, is tender and warm, and suggests that a life can be turned around if there is a genuine connection that feeds the deeper human needs. Comparisons have been made with The Full Monty, Brassed Off, Trainspotting and other British films based on working class life, but these are just the lazy thoughts of marketing people trying to sell a title to an easily fooled audience. The Angel's Share sits squarely in the overall collection of Loach films, which has so much more to it than meets the superficial eye. The man is a wonder, still turning out an excellent film every year or 2 on a shoestring budget with unknown actors, at an age when most people have either packed it in, or are living on past glories. Ken stands alone and should be cherished and appreciated by all lovers of good films.
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