By – Scott Bradley – The big Summer season continues apace
The big Summer season continues
apace this week with two huge tent-pole titles in Prometheus and Snow White And
The Huntsman. Yet hoping to find an
audience among all the spectacles is a smaller, more intimate tale, offering a
very different type of reward and a welcome relief from the big budget
spectaculars. And we’re not
talking about Top Cat – The Movie.
The Angels’ Share is Ken Loach’s latest successful collaboration with screenwriter Paul Laverty and, as he approaches his
76th birthday, he shows no signs of losing his ability to convey the darker
side of our world, as he showed so devastatingly last year with Iraq War
revenge thriller Route Irish. This time around Loach and Laverty are
spinning a more uplifting yarn, full of banter and gallows humour, heartwarming
plot devices and, at its heart, a classic Scottish caper in the tradition of Restless Natives, That Sinking Feeling and Whisky
Galore though reviews suggesting it’s this year’s The Full Monty fall way short of the mark. It may be a classic
feel-good comedy, a tale of underdogs finding their dreams in the face of
adversity, but, unlike The Full Monty, it’s shot through with an unflinching,
gritty realism that hits head-butt hard and many viewers may not expect from
the posters and trailers. Although
it does find time for a travel montage featuring The Proclaimers’ I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles).
As is characteristic of Loach, the film places you directly at the heart
of the lives of Scotland’s forgotten young offenders and unemployed underclass.
Laverty’s more familiar stomping grounds of Possil and Glasgow at its darkest,
contrasting with later scenes in Edinburgh and the beautiful West Highland
landscape a world away socially from the realities of our quartet of
anti-heroes while only a few miles geographically. As ever Loach’s familiar,
painstaking practice of casting real people with seasoned pros and a mostly
improvised script pays dividends, convincing you to root for the salvation of
his invisible, ignored heroes.
The film opens with perhaps its most overtly funny scene (thanks to a
hilarious vocal cameo from Still Game’s
Ford Kiernan) before introducing us
to four young adults on trial at Glasgow Sheriff Court. Albert (Gary Maitland, last seen in Loach’s Tickets) is the clown of the group, arrested for narrowly missing
being hit by a train whilst drunk.
Mo (Jasmin Riggins) is a
kleptomaniac caught with a live parrot in her jacket. Rhino (William Ruane)
is a hard man with a habit of riding bronze statues with a traffic cone on his
head. And Robbie (brilliantly
played by newcomer Paul Brannigan)
is a penitent thug and new father, determined to change his ways after being
arrested for violently assaulting the son of his dead father’s biggest rival in
a family feud. Sentenced to 300
hours community service, Robbie’s desperately looking for a way out of the
endless cycle of vendetta and zero opportunities, determined to become a real
provider for his young girlfriend Leonie (Siobhan
Reilly) and his newborn son.
Following a slightly contrived but brutal altercation en route to seeing
his son at the hospital for the first time, Robbie finds himself being
encouraged and befriended by his supervisor Harry (Early Doors’ John Henshaw), a middle- aged, recently divorced
Mancunian, who just wants to see these kids become more than their present
lives would allow. On one of his rare days off, Harry decides to take Robbie
and his three new friends to a whisky distillery and Robbie finds not only a
natural talent for picking out the subtler notes of a single malt but a passion
to develop it further. Along the way, he encounters renowned whisky expert Rory
McAllister (wonderfully and enthusiastically played by real life connoisseur Charlie Maclean) who is due to attend
the auction of an extremely rare cask expected to make a million at auction. It
is then that a plan is hatched, one which could give them all the chance to
escape their living restraints and create good lives for themselves.
With a few genuinely tearful scenes of harrowing honesty as we realise
just how senseless Robbie’s past has been, Paul Brannigan naturally draws on
his own parallel experiences (a former bad kid himself, Brannigan woke up to
his ways with the birth of his own son and now visits schools and prisons as a
motivational worker and mentor) so that, despite the ugliness of his crimes,
one still hopes there is a chance for these no-hopers to escape their fates,
even if it rests with the angels.
By the time Robbie’s scam gets under way, the atmosphere and handling
have seen Loach at his most playful, though a perfectly timed twist provoked a
fair few collective gasps prior to a sweet finish.
The Angels’ Share is a genuinely heartwarming tale with a lot to
recommend it, particularly if you’re a
whisky lover, and will no doubt prompt a surge of visitors to
distilleries throughout Scotland which, to satiate tourists let down by Yemen,
has salmon as well.