Ken Loach is clearly enjoying his ‘retirement.’ Many will remember that in 2014 the rather underwhelming Jimmy’s Hall was widely trumpeted as his farewell film. But the woeful political climate that blossomed in that film’s aftermath prompted him to return in 2016, with I, Daniel Blake, which turned out to be one of the most powerful films of a long and varied career. Sorry We Missed You is his damning look at the so-called gig economy, and the desperate straits so many of its employees find themselves in.
After a series of employment disasters, Ricky Turner (Chris Hitchins) is looking for a new start and thinks he’s found it when a friend recommends a career as a ‘self-employed’ delivery driver. However, as head man Gavin Maloney (Ross Brewster) explains, Ricky won’t be working for the company, but with them. He will be responsible for any packages that don’t make it to their destination on time, and his progress will be monitored, not by other human beings but by the piece of tech he carries with him at all times – and which, if damaged, will cost his a thousand pounds to replace.
In other words, Ricky will enjoy no workers’ rights whatsoever – and every tiny mistake he makes will count against him financially.
It doesn’t start well. Ricky needs a deposit to buy a van and manages to persuade his wife, care-worker Abby (Debbie Honeywood), to sell her car in order to fund it. Abby is already being pushed to the limit, both by her punishing work schedule and by her teenage son, Sebastian (Rhys Stone), an ambitious graffiti artist who is reluctant to buckle down and gain an education, when it looks like the road will inevitably lead to the same precarious existence his parents are struggling though. His younger sister, Liza Jane (Debbie Proctor), just longs for a quieter, happier existence. But Abby goes along with the idea, even though it means getting to her elderly ‘clients’ will be even harder when travelling by public transport.
The performances by the four leads are compelling. The Turners are completely convincing as a family unit and it’s particularly affecting to watch Ricky’s transformation from a happy-go-lucky grafter to a careworn, exhausted wage slave who can barely stay awake at the wheel of his delivery van.
Sorry We Missed You is a hard watch. Scripted, as ever, by Paul Laverty, it does have a few brighter passages, but most of its content is the slow, punishing descent to disaster, which at times I watch in extreme agitation, lost in a rising tide of anger. This is the awful reality of life in Tory Britain for the disadvantaged: a shameful, blistering indictment of the government’s current policies and a society that concentrates on the balance sheets at the expense of those struggling to exist in the lower echelons of society. I cry quite a bit during this film, and the chances are, you will too.
Once again, Loach has his finger on the nation’s pulse – and the prognosis is bad. So, this won’t be your choice for a pleasant evening at the cinema. But please go and see it. It’s an important film and, as the country heads towards another general election, a timely reminder of how you might decide to vote.