Opens: December 26
Genre: Social realist drama
Duration: 100 minutes
British veteran Ken Loach and his regular screenwriter Paul Laverty have lost none of their ability to tell a story that starts quietly and by the end has the viewer boiling with rage. His last feature, I, Daniel Blake, won Loach his second Cannes Palme d’Or, not because of its polished film craft (his realist visual style has remained stubbornly non-lyrical) but its devastating emotional effect.
Sorry We Missed You. Photo © Joss Barratt
This follow-up is a kind of companion piece, not only because it was also filmed in Newcastle with a cast of unknowns, but also because it again centres on a proud individual trying his hardest to satisfy the demands of a ruthless system before realising there is no way out.
In Blake, the system was a degraded welfare state turned hostile. Here it’s the “gig economy”, i.e. a system of contracted labour that strips employees of workers’ rights including collective bargaining.
Protagonist Ricky (Kris Hitchen) is a 40-something married father of two who leaps at the chance to attain a smidgeon of independence when offered a gig as a delivery man for a courier company. The first of many catches becomes obvious on day one: as a contracted worker (“you don’t work for us, you work with us”, says the new boss), he must either buy an expensive new van or hire one of the company’s at an exorbitant rate. To raise the finance he and his wife Abbie sell their car. As a mobile carer, she now has to reach her clients by bus.
And so the inconveniences accumulate, becoming gradually more frustrating until family problems erupt and there is no way of getting time off work to deal with them.
Loach is often called a “political” filmmaker for obvious reasons but his secret is that he’s never just that. In his work, injustice isn’t an abstract concept, it’s about recognisable human beings interacting with power structures at the everyday level. Loach and Laverty expertly turn on the screws via an accumulation of quotidian details – a customer complaint here, a parking ticket there – that gradually start to add up to an intolerable pressure. It’s not an easy watch, but it is memorable and compelling – the rare film that comments on the peculiar details of a historical moment while we are still going through it and makes all too clear sense of it.