Ken Loach delights with this playful tale of crime capers and Scottish whisky. Top 10 Films editor Dan Stephens takes a look at one of the great British social-realist’s most endearing and entertaining films.
Director Ken Loach returns to one of his favourite haunts for this light-hearted story of redemption in Glasgow. Former thug Robbie (Paul Brannigan) avoids a prison sentence and is required to carry out a number of hours of community service. Following the recent birth of his son, Robbie promises girlfriend Leonie (Siobhan Reilly) that his life of crime is over, particularly his penchant for violence when provoked.
However, for a man from the wrong side of the Glaswegian tracks, changing his long-established ways isn’t easy. Indeed, Leonie’s family are adamant they don’t want him in their lives, going as far as to assault him in the hospital when his girlfriend’s in labour, while an ongoing feud with a neighbourhood family threatens to derail his plans for atonement.
Robbie finds guidance in the calming influence of Harry (John Henshaw), his community payback leader. He recognises Robbie’s eagerness to leave the past behind, witnessing regret for his actions as well as an intelligence that belies his previous delinquency. Having experienced Harry’s enthusiasm for whisky, including his passionate knowledge of the intricacies of its distillation, Robbie finds his own affections for the alcoholic beverage grow.
However, when he learns of an almost priceless whisky going on sale at auction, he can’t help but hatch a plan to carry out a life-changing heist. Alongside a few of his fellow community payback members, the overeager group set out for one “last” criminal act.
The Angels’ Share, which takes its name from the usage of the phrase to describe whisky that evaporates naturally in the barrel, is another of Loach’s more optimistic films sharing similar themes with his 2009 effort Looking For Eric. There’s also that element of farce that offers frequent glimpses of the director’s wit while never veering too far away from his trademark naturalistic setting with its stylistically uncluttered staging.
He draws some fine performances from his cast, allowing them to bring their characters to life with an improvisational elegance. I particularly liked Gary Maitland’s performance as the accident prone, slow-on-the-uptake Albert, a character that could have easily become caricature without Loach’s assured direction.
However, whereas Looking For Eric balanced its darker moments neatly with its more humorous antics, The Angels’ Share does suffer a little from an uneven tone. Indeed, its underlying threat of violent retribution in light of Robbie’s shady past pops in and out of the story before being largely forgotten in favour of a feel-good finale. Yet, when Loach is in this fine a mood, perhaps helped by the odd swig of the finest single malt, you can’t help but be gleefully swept along for the ride.