Fine nose for perfect dram
Directed by Ken Loach
Ken Loach is Britain's most revered social realist director, but even he is prone to whimsy.
True, The Angels' Share's largely Glaswegian cast and locations are uncompromising, but the film is as much about the perfect dram (single-malt whisky) as it is about the difficulties of rising above your situation.
Loach presents us with a young rogues' gallery of leads. Brought together on periodic detention for a range of petty crimes, they all appear to be lost causes, not least Robbie (Paul Brannigan), whose explosive temper risks putting him back in prison just as he has become a dad. They are taken under the wing of no-nonsense counsellor Harry (John Henshaw), who is really a kind soul with a fine nose for whisky.
This all seems deeply improbable, not least when our gang of miscreants travels to Edinburgh to pull off the greatest whisky swindle ever.
Yet Loach doesn't let the viewer settle too easily. In early scenes, you're left in little doubt these are damaged characters. Robbie's restorative justice session is starkly matter of fact. Loach doesn't flinch from the impoverished surroundings, while the dialect is so thick that some viewers might require subtitles.
It's in stark contrast with the affluence of the whisky connoisseurs in the later scenes, who think nothing of bidding £1 million for a rare bottle. In getting the scruffy underclass to infiltrate this culture, The Angels' Share reclaims it for the common man - and in Roger Allam's shifty whisky dealer, they have an unlikely ally.
The film's appreciation of the aesthetics of whisky tasting also feels genuine: the title refers to the proportion of distilled spirit's volume that is lost to evaporation during ageing in oak barrels. Indeed, Loach is so sincere that it's a shame he occasionally reverts to obvious laughs. Did the soundtrack really need to include the Proclaimers?
Yet for all its wish-fulfillment, the film leaves some aspects of its protagonists' futures unresolved. Loach may have mellowed, but The Angels' Share has a surprisingly strong aftertaste. A decent tipple.
The Timaru Herald