fri 19/07/2024

The Angels' Share | reviews, news & interviews

The Angels' Share

The Angels' Share

Whisky and a touch of whimsy colour this compassionate caper from Ken Loach

His guardian angel: John Henshaw (left) takes Paul Brannigan under his wing in ‘The Angels' Share’

“The angels' share” refers to the two percent of whisky that evaporates each year during its maturation process - which the romantically or religiously inclined would have us believe is siphoned off by cheeky celestial beings.

With two Hollywood monoliths (Prometheus and Snow White and the Huntsman) slugging it out at the box office this week it seems unlikely that Ken Loach’s Glasgow-set latest - a tiny wee film by comparison - will be left with much more than the angels' share of business. However, this comedic and compassionate film – the winner of the Jury Prize at this year’s Cannes Film Festival no less - certainly deserves to be seen.

The Angels' Share is Loach’s 10th collaboration with screenwriter Paul Laverty. It’s the story of Robbie (first-time actor Paul Brannigan) who is trapped in a cycle of violent offending due, in part, to a long-running feud. As he tells his girlfriend Leonie (Siobhan Reilly, pictured below left with Brannigan), “His dad fought my dad at school - it’s just how it is.” Robbie is first shown narrowly escaping a prison sentence for assault. He’s depicted alongside a number of other likable ne’er-do-wells, all of whom are sentenced to community payback and who become friends. These include Mo (Jasmine Riggins), caught stealing a macaw; the dopey Albert (Gary Maitland), who’s reprimanded for a drunken stumble onto train tracks – an act of inebriated idiocy which opens the film (he’s told: “your profound stupidity is matched only by your good fortune”); and finally, Rhino (William Ruane), who we learn has a penchant for messing about with statues.

Recalling his similarly benevolent role in Loach’s Looking for Eric, John Henshaw plays Harry, the gang’s community service supervisor. He’s a whisky enthusiast who takes a shine to Robbie when he witnesses at first hand just what he’s up against in his quest to go straight. When Harry takes Robbie to the hospital for the birth of his first child he sees him beaten and warned off by Leonie’s family, who regard him as little more than scum. Furthermore he’s tested by the continued aggressive presence of a rival gang. The beleaguered Robbie responds eagerly to Harry’s avuncular guidance and his mentorship in the world of whisky, as well as to his own fatherhood. Although the plot sees him turn recidivist when he instigates a whisky heist, it’s played as a light-hearted caper rather than a depressing return to criminality.

It’s always heartening to see Loach take a punt on a newcomer and once again his faith pays dividends. Brannigan gives a charming, nuanced performance as Robbie, who is antsy with frustration and brought humiliatingly low by the shame of past actions. When Robbie asks a friend of Leonie’s family why she’s chosen to help them she replies, “Somebody gave me a chance once and it changed my life.” They’re words that Laverty and Loach clearly live by, as Brannigan is a former offender and gang member who later assisted the Strathclyde Police’s Violence Reduction Unit as a football coach. Interestingly, at the other end of the social scale, they’ve gone for similar authenticity by casting real-life whisky expert Charlie Maclean as the colourful, somewhat farcically posh Rory.

Unfortunately, The Angels' Share is some way short of perfection. The introduction and involvement of dodgy whisky dealer Thaddeus (a reliably slippery Roger Allam) is too pat and the execution of the Ealing-esque heist insufficiently perilous. Such narrative negligence undermines the credibility and thoughtfulness of the remainder of the tale and the sterling work of the cast in particular. Those expecting something of the verve of NEDS (directed by Loach alumnus Peter Mullan and dealing in similar subject matter) may too be disappointed, as this is a much lighter affair, albeit still peppered with passion and politics. However, that it’s far from Loach’s finest is more a reflection of the quality of his oeuvre rather than being a slur on this particular, hugely enjoyable, film. It mixes broad, often delightfully daft wit with social comment and appropriately enough – given its heavenly title – it positively glows with goodness.

 Watch the trailer for The Angels' Share

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It’s always heartening to see Loach take a punt on a newcomer and once again his faith pays dividends


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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I've seen far too few films this year, but having watched this on the plane home (along with Brave - I was feeling a wee bit of national pride, what can I say) this is easily my film of the year. Loads of heart, and I wept all the way through.

Thanks for a lot of plot and flannel. I expect better writing from/ this site

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