Saturday 20 January 2018

Loach's gritty film has real comic spark

The angels' share
(15A, general release, 106 minutes )
Director: Ken Loach Stars: Paul Brannigan, John Henshaw, Siobhan Reilly, Roger Allam, William Ruane

Paul Whitington

A lighter, almost whimsical mood has been creeping into the films of Ken Loach of late.

There were always moments of salty gallows wit within his social realism, but 2009's Looking for Eric contained scenes so broadly comic they recalled the joyful abandon of Ealing comedies.

There's even more music hall knockabout in The Angels' Share, but there's also some pretty harrowing social observation, and the extraordinary thing is that Loach manages to make both work harmoniously in the service of this accomplished and very enjoyable film.

Things start pretty grimly. Robbie (Paul Brannigan) is a petty criminal who's up on an assault charge in a Glasgow court, but is given one last chance by a sympathetic judge as he's about to become a father.

Robbie is determined to turn over a new leaf and look after his girlfriend and baby, but finds himself thwarted at every turn. Getting a job seems near impossible, and when he goes to the hospital to see his new child he is beaten up by his girlfriend's hostile brothers.

Ordered to do community service, Robbie ends up in the care of a supervisor called Harry (John Henshaw), an older, English man who looks like he's lived a lot but turns out to have a deep well of compassion.

Harry is a lover of fine whisky, and when he takes Robbie and his other motley charges to a tasting in Edinburgh, Robbie turns out to have a gifted and subtle palate.

Robbie is excited by this new talent, but still has a keen eye for a scam.

And when he hears about the impending auction of a rare and immensely valuable cask of highland malt, he and three dubious associates head for the high country to pull a fast one.

The Angels' Share opens in an urban landscape so devastated and hopeless that you settle in for a grim couple of hours.

But once it gets going, the film balances unblinking realism with generous dollops of compensating wit.

Jasmin Riggins, William Ruane and Gary Maitland are excellent as Robbie's accomplices, and Maitland in particular is hilarious as the magnificently uninformed Albert.

Loach's largely amateur cast give the film an underlying veracity, and Brannigan is a talented and charismatic young performer.

Roger Allam has a nice cameo as an unscrupulous whisky buyer, and Henshaw is very good as the kindly Harry.

And while a certain suspension of disbelief may be required towards the film's frothy climax, The Angels' Share is a hilarious, nicely balanced and exceedingly likeable film.

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