The Angels' Share
Loach and Laverty's latest suffers from attempts to attract all-comers
Here persists the noble quest of Ken Loach and screenwriter Paul Laverty to create accessible, populist films about the lives of the UK’s so-called underclass. Unfortunately, The Angels’ Share is straining so hard to be accessible and populist that it feels forced; hemmed in by its own earnestness, it just can’t achieve the nimbleness that its playful premise demands. Early scenes find Loach on familiar territory, as our young protagonist Robbie struggles to re-enter society after a spell in a young offenders’ institution. His girlfriend’s pregnant and his crimes hang heavy on him; if the message that rehabilitation and forgiveness are elusive for the underprivileged is given a bit of a hammering, Paul Brannigan’s taut, edgy performance adds authenticity. It’s when Robbie discovers an instinct for whisky tasting – and glimpses a means to turn this to his financial advantage – that the film takes a tonal lurch and starts shooting for Full Monty-style rough diamond high jinks.
Certainly it’s interesting to attempt this meld of moods – to show us the grim realities of Robbie’s crime and punishment, and then to beckon us along on an improbable wish-fufilling frolic – but the shift feels jarring rather than inventive. Ironically for a filmmaker frequently celebrated for his commitment to realism, Loach here gives us something suffocatingly constructed; a dumbed-down caper that’s trying so hard not to be arty, pretentious or overly complex that it lands itself solidly in sitcom territory. In trying to cater to everyone – state-of-the-nation urban grit for paid-up Loach aficionados, low-brow blokey ‘laffs’ for mainstream moviegoers – The Angels’ Share had shed its spontaneity. That it means well can hardly be denied. It means so well that well-meaningness is pretty much its defining characteristic. But something’s gone wrong when a would-be cheerful comedy leaves you feeling as if a condescending finger has been wagged in your face.
General release from Fri 1 June.