The Angels’ Share

Rating – ****

Starring – Paul Brannigan

With Looking for Eric in 2009 Ken Loach directed a film about the life of a fanatical postman that was uplifting and jubilant, while still managing to confront the social issues and realistically capture the struggles of those in economic straits. Loach refrained from being twee or sacharine and instead managed to harmonise the ‘feel good movie’ with a powerful social commentary that was executed much more subtly than Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire (2008), which slammed these two genres of cinema together in its very title. The Angels’ Share is very much a continuation of this style of cinema within which Loach has proven himself able to direct with a subtlelty and finesse since Kes in 1969.
The film opens with a comedic sequence involving an inebriated individual and is followed by a succesion of court appearances in which we only see the faces of the defendents as we are told their crimes. These two sequences effectively establish the tone for the rest of the film as we follow the protagonist Robbie (Paul Brannigan), who is given a second chance at court by being sentenced to community service rather than a jail sentence due to the immenent birth of his child. The film approaches the story with humour but does not avoid the more pressing social troubles that have led to this individual’s confrontation with the law. While the film highlights the problems it doesn’t fail to provide some solutions as seen when Robbie befriends his supervisor, Harry (John Henshaw), who inadvertently reveals Robbie’s talented nose when he takes the community service group on a trip to a distillery.
Although the discovery of hidden talents may appear contrived when presented as plot, Loach’s expertise as a director ensures a prevailing sense of realism that does not allow the more remarkable instances of the plot to disturb the audience’s emotional involvement. This is also achieved through the superb performances of the relatively unknown actors. Brannigan in particular is captivating as his character attempts to come to terms with his violent past and create a stable future for his young family. One scene illustrates his acting talents perfectly. The camera focuses on Robbie’s face as he is retold the events of an attack he perpetrated from the perspective of the victim. The guilt and the shame he suffers is palpable and powerful while still managing to not be overly dramatic.
In fact it is this scene in particular that is indicative of the success of the film in general. The film, in its disscussion of the poor and disenfranchised of Glasgow’s council houses, does not attempt to justify the actions of the individuals that led them to community service but neither does it attempt to villify them. The Angels’ Share draws out the humanity of the characters on which it is focussing, and reveals the existence of hope for those who may initially appear the most hopeless. Loach aptly depicts the struggle for reformation but also the joy one experiences when they succeed.