Cinema Review: The Angels’ Share

DIR: Ken Loach • WRI: Paul Laverty • PRO: Rebecca O’Brien • DOP: Dariusz Wolski • ED: Jonathan Morris • DES: Fergus Clegg • Cast: Roger Allam, Daniel Portman, John Henshaw, William Ruane

Throughout his long career, which began with Poor Cow all the way back in 1967, Ken Loach has proven himself adept at coaxing strong performances from non-professional actors. With The Angels ‘Share, Loach has once again unearthed a few rare gems among his mainly amateur cast, and the resulting film is a triumphant vehicle for the charisma and wit of these young actors. This year at Cannes, the hopes of British success at the festival lay almost entirely on this film’s modestly-budgeted shoulders, and with previous success with My Name is Joe and The Wind That Shakes the Barley, Loach could afford to be confident. Sure enough the film came away with the Special Jury Prize, losing out on the Palme d’Or to Michael Haneke’s Love. However, the venerable Loach would have to admit that the credit for this victory must go to his excellent cast, who have managed to overcome a sometimes uneven script to deliver a film that is one of this director’s most enjoyable in years.

 

As with My Name is Joe and Sweet Sixteen, Loach sets his story in working-class Scotland, this time in the disadvantaged council estates of Glasgow. Robbie (Paul Brannigan) has just become a Dad and is determined to turn over a new leaf after narrowly avoiding a prison sentence for a violent assault. He meets a kindly community worker, played by John Henshaw, who instills in Robbie and his work-shy mates a love of fine Scotch whiskey after a community service group visit to a distillery. After learning of the lucrative rewards to be made in selling rare whiskeys, Robbie and his trio of scallywag friends (Jasmin Miller, William Ruane and the hilarious Gary Maitland) cook up a plan to steal into a Highland distillery to pull off the mother of all rare scotch heists. Here, Loach’s film takes an abrupt turn from his customary gritty social realism to gently zany caper movie. The result gives the film an uneven feel, as the story of Robbie, his girlfriend and baby son is left behind and wanders off into madcap heist territory. Fortunately for Loach, his non-professional cast have such a natural flair for comedy that the audience simply doesn’t care, as we end up rooting for this rag-tag bunch to succeed in their audaciously daft mission.

 

The joys of profane working-class humour are never far from the surface in Loach’s films, but in The Angels ‘Share our protagonist’s clowning and wise-cracking is allowed to come to the forefront. You get the feeling that a professional cast would have nowhere near the same feel for these characters and their spiky humour – only these naturally talented and hugely charismatic non-professionals could believably convey these character’s streetwise cleverness and good-humoured optimism in the face of adversity. Thanks to their excellent performances, (especially those of Brannigan and Maitland, who’s Albert is a great comic creation) Loach’s film is saved from the slightly awkward and cliched nature of its script to become one of his most refreshingly funny and effervescent films.

Martin Cusack

Rated 15A (see IFCO website for details)
The Angels’ Share is released on 1st June 2012


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