Flying the Great British flag at the Cannes Film Festival this year, Ken Loach’s The Angels’ Share was the only British film in competition at this year’s event – and the feature was rather well-received, taking home the prestigious Jury Prize – the third most prominent, and one that has been awarded to widely renowned films such as All About Eve, The Seventh Seal and Festen in the past.
Set in Glasgow, Scotland, we follow the trials and tribulations of trouble-maker Robbie (Paul Brannigan) – desperately attempting to form a new life for himself with his girlfriend (Siobhan Reilly) and newly born child, as he narrowly escapes a jail sentence following a violent string of attacks. Although vying for a way out, trouble just can’t seem to leave him alone, and Robbie is sent to complete a community service order, where he meets a group of like-minded people, also vowing to start over yet struggling to obtain a job given their criminal records.
Community service officer Harry (John Henshaw) can see a bright future in Robbie and introduces him to a new world, palming his passion for whiskey onto the appointed youngster. He takes Robbie to whiskey tasting conventions, and whilst feeling gratified for the faith placed in him by Harry, alongside new friends Mo (Jasmine Riggins), Rhino (William Ruane) and the clumsy Albert (Gary Maitland) – the group have spotted one last opportunity to delve into their former lifestyles, as it becomes known that an old barrel of whiskey is to be auctioned, for a coveted figure potentially reaching a million pounds…
The Angel’s Share is a wonderfully uplifting picture, that despite its naturalistic edge and Loach’s inclination to delve into social realism – manages to find a wonderful middle ground between gritty realism and a more manufactured, cinematic joviality – typical of Loach’s work. The veteran film-maker often manages to create films that come with a wonderfully endearing tone and atmosphere, although conversely capturing the bleakness of society.
In this respect The Angel’s Share feels quite similar to Loach’s Looking for Eric – also depicting one man’s attempt to escape from his own life and past, intent on moving forward against all the odds. Due to such themes being explored, there is certainly a tenseness emanating from this picture, as you sit on the edge of your seat, grudgingly anticipating something bad happening to the lead we have grown to respect and empathise with, despite any initial reservations we had once held.
Yet despite these apprehensions, the film is also very witty and charming, enhanced by the quite dry intonation within the Scottish accent. The Angel’s Share is a very Scottish film – at one point all of the protagonists are wearing kilts, drinking Irn-Bru, whilst The Proclaimers ‘I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)’ plays over the top. I mean c’mon!
The performances across the board in this film are very strong, particularly by Brannigan in what is his début feature film. Displaying an incredible amount of talent, here is an actor that almost certainly has a bright future in film – a sentiment supported by the fact he has landed himself a starring role alongside a certain Scarlett Johansson in the upcoming Under the Skin. He has a wonderful sincerity to his demeanour, yet despite his endearing nature, you fully believe he is capable of the horrible violence of which he had been accused. Henshaw is the other stand out performer, also portraying a character that seems incredibly respectable and accommodating – but is potentially concealing a somewhat challenging past.
The Angel’s Share is simply a delightful picture, and yet another Ken Loach film for us to positively revel in, as we so often do. It makes you feel as tense as it does happy, and makes you laugh as much as you wince – certainly proving itself to be a worthy recipient of the Jury Prize at Cannes. On a side note, it’s a film that really makes you want to drink whiskey too. Or maybe that’s just me.