Ken Loach

Sorry We Missed You

02/11/19

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.

4.6 stars

Philip Caveney

Film Bouquets 2016

 

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It was an interesting year for film. Here, in order of release, rather than stature – and with the benefit of hindsight – are our favourite movies of 2016.

Room

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This superb adaptation of Emma Donoghue’s novel got 2016 off to a cracking start. There were powerful performances from Brie Larson and young Jacob Tremblay as the central characters in a tragic yet oddly inspirational story.

The Revenant

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Alejandro Gonzalez Inaritu delivered another dazzling movie, this one as savage and untamed as the grizzly bear that mauled Leonardo Di Caprio half to death – but made up for it by helping him win his first Oscar.

Anomalisa

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Writer/director Charlie Kaufman gave us a quirky (and deeply disturbing) animation that was a Kafkaesque meditation on identity and the bleak nature of the human condition.

Dheepan

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Jacques Audiard’s fascinating study of the lives of refugees never fell into cliche. There was violence here, but it felt horribly real and totally devastating. There were affecting performances from a cast of newcomers.

Victoria

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Sebastian Schipper’s film really shouldn’t have worked. Delivered in one continuous take, the fact that it hooked us in so brilliantly was just the icing on the cake – a real ensemble piece but plaudits must go to Laia Costa as the eponymous heroine.

Sing Street

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John Carney may have only one plot but when it was delivered as beautifully as it was in Sing Street, we were happy to indulge him. This was a beautiful, heartwarming film with appeal to anybody who has ever dreamed about pop stardom.

The Neon Demon

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The fashion industry as seen by Nicolas Winding Refn is a hell hole and here, Elle Fanning as Jesse, was the latest recruit. A weird mash-up of sex, violence and extreme voyeurism, this was the director’s most assured effort yet.

Hunt for the Wilderpeople

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New Zealand director Taika Waititi offered up this delightfully quirky story about a troubled teenager (Julian Dennison) and his friendship with crusty curmudgeon, Hec (Sam Neill). This film reeled us in and kept us hooked to the end credits.

The Girl with all the Gifts

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Just when we thought the zombie movie had stumbled as far as it could go, Colm McCarthy’s film gave the genre a hefty kick up the backside – and there was a star-making performance from young Senna Nanua in the lead role.

Under the Shadow

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Babek Abvari’s film had all the tropes of the contemporary horror movie and a powerful political message as well. Set in post war Tehran, young mother Shideh (Narges Rashidi) struggled to keep her daughter safe from the forces of darkness.

I, Daniel Blake

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Ken Loach’s return to the screen resulted in one of the most powerful and affecting films of the year – a searing look at ‘benefits Britain’ that would have the most stony-hearted viewer in floods of tears. Should be required viewing for Tory politicians.

Train to Busan

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Another day, another zombie movie – but what a zombie movie! Korean director Sang ho Yeon gave us a galloping ‘zombies on a train’ thriller that nearly left us breathless. There were some incredible set pieces here and a nerve-shredding conclusion.

Paterson

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Jim Jarmusch presented a charming and quirky tale about a would-be poet living in a town that had the same name as him. Not very much happened, but it didn’t happen in an entirely watchable way. A delightful celebration of the creative spirit.

Life, Animated

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This compelling documentary squeaked in right at the end of the year – the true life tale of Owen Suskind, an autistic boy, initially unable to speak a word, but rescued by his love of Disney movies. It was funny, uplifting and educational – and our final pick of 2016.

I, Daniel Blake

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21/10/16

If everything had gone to plan, this film wouldn’t have seen the light of day. Ken Loach’s previous movie, Jimmy’s Hall, was intended to be his swan song. And though that was a decent enough film, it was hardly up there with his finest work.But clearly, a look around ‘Benefits Britain’  – as engendered by the Tory party’s heartless policies – has stirred the veteran director out of retirement. I, Daniel Blake is not so much a film as a protracted howl of anger – and it’s one of the finest polemics I’ve seen on the cinema screen.

Dan (stand-up comedian, Dave Johns) is a carpenter who has recently suffered a serious heart attack. Told by his doctor that he’s not fit to go back to work, he signs on, but soon discovers that  the ‘decision-maker’ has deemed him ‘fit for work.’ Of course, he has no income, so if he wants money, he’ll have to apply for Jobseeker’s Allowance. This obliges him to trudge around Newcastle looking for jobs that he isn’t fit enough to accept even in the unlikely event that he gets them. During one trip to the Job Centre, he encounters Katie (Hayley Squires) a young single mother with two kids to look after. She’s recently been relocated from London to Newcastle and is desperately trying to find work. Dan befriends her, and becomes a kind of surrogate grandfather to the two children.

All the familiar Loach tropes are here – non actors, giving every scene a shot of verité, semi-improvised dialogue and a story that meanders from incident to incident with little in the way of a traditional story arc. But what there is in abundance is a sense of simmering anger, an incomprehension that life in this green and pleasant land could have come to this sorry state of affairs. There are scenes here that would move the most implacable viewer to tears (a scene set in a food bank is particularly affecting). If this should prove to be Loach’s final film, it’s a hell of a leaving card.

This should be required viewing for every politician in the land.

5 stars

Philip Caveney

Jimmy’s Hall

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04/10/14

A new film by Ken Loach is usually a cause for much celebration, but Jimmy’s Hall falls somewhat short of his own impeccable standards. Of course, he’s done Ireland before (much more successfully) with The Wind That Shakes The Barley, a film so filled with anger that it makes for uncomfortable (though riveting) viewing. With this story, Loach’s longtime screenwriter Paul Laverty, homes in on a much more intimate real life story, set in Co Leitrim in the late 1930’s. Jimmy Gralton (Barry Ward) returns to his hometown after a ten year exile in New York. Back in the day, he  fell foul of the authorities with his ownership of a local dancehall, which was seen by many to be a focus for discord and (God forbid) communism. But he isn’t back home long before the local youth start pestering him to open up the dance hall again, arguing that these are more enlightened times and surely nobody could possibly object.

It doesn’t take long to discover that the times are nothing of the kind. Gralton comes up against his former adversary, Father Sheridan (Jim Norton) an embittered old priest who thinks he sees communists lurking behind every tree and it isn’t long before the dancehall becomes a target of every hardliner in the vicinity. Gralton’s attempts to make the church accept that those who come to his hall are merely looking for entertainment and education, are doomed to failure.

It’s an interesting little story, but there may not have been enough meat here to base an entire film around. All of Loach’s trademark tropes are present and correct – improvised sequences featuring non-professional actors, naturalistic sound and extended crowd scenes, but in this film, the latter only serve to give proceedings a funereal pace and the story rarely generates any real sparks of life. Loach has been quoted as saying that Jimmy’s Hall may be his final movie, but I sincerely hope not. I’d like to see him go out on a stronger note than this.

3 stars

Philip Caveney