The Angels’ Share is the latest of Ken Loach’s Scottish set films and his tenth collaboration with writer Paul Laverty. Loach is a filmmaker who has proven to be one of the most prolific and consistent advocates of political cinema. Though The Angels’ Share is, for the most part, a light work, in the vein of 2009’s enjoyable Looking For Eric, it does retain a political value.
The film follows Robbie Emerson (Paul Brannigan) as he narrowly avoids a prison sentence for assault. Instead given 300 hours of community service, he ultimately falls under the wing of Harry (John Henshaw), who heads the community service team to which Robbie has been assigned. Robbie is desperate to start over with his girlfriend and his recently born child, though an old feud and a lack of opportunities threaten to keep Robbie stuck in a violent and dangerous rut.
The Angels’ Share is best summed up as a comedy-parable about using your resilience and creativity to dig yourself out of the hole of youth unemployment and gang culture. It bares comparison to Loach’s similar, though much darker, classic Kes in its story of a young man’s attempts to escape his bleak present and even bleaker future via a newfound talent, Robbie’s being a surprisingly sensitive talent for expensive whisky. The film is often disturbing. Loach’s films never shy away from the ugly side of whatever world he is portraying and there are many uncomfortable and even harrowing scenes, particularly a moving scene in which Robbie is faced with a former victim. Ultimately, however, the film is a passionate and honest portrayal of the lives and experiences of those who are too often marginalized in our society. However, Loach’s adherence to realism and to the presentation of a political message does not preclude a strong sense of humour.
Most of Loach’s films are often very funny and, though it steps very close to farce at some points, The Angels’ Share is primarily an ensemble comedy. Many of the characters exist primarily as comic fools, though they are never straitjacketed into one-note characterizations. The film brilliantly maintains a mix of comedy and drama and will often move from one to the other shockingly quick. The most interesting example occurs in the courtroom sequence in the first few minutes of the film. Comedy is created through the juxtaposition of the character of the crimes committed with the highly formalized language used in the courtroom. A series of such crimes are given, though they suddenly stop being funny, catching the audience as they are ready to laugh and confronting them with the less comic side of life in inner city Glasgow.
In comparison to Loach’s more angry works, of which his preceding film, Route Irish, was certainly a number, The Angels’ Share is slightly atypical – especially in the very surprising though tonally fitting use of that well-known hit by The Proclaimers. The jury is still out has to whether political cinema is more successful (if success is possible by any standard) harrowing and pessimistic or comic and optimistic, but The Angels’ Share, though unrealistic and throwaway at the level of narrative, is ultimately an engrossing and valuable film.
Ken Loach has made greater films than The Angels’ Share, but it does counter the misleading impression that Loach’s cinema is dogmatic and depressing. As well as this, the film sees Loach continue with his preoccupation with those whom are too often misrepresented, if not totally ignored, in our society. The Angels’ Share might hopefully bring a new audience to the work of one of the most challenging and exciting of living filmmakers.