Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

The Angels’ Share (2012) ****

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 13th January, 2021

The “angels’ share” is a popular term for the quantity of whisky that is lost to evaporation as it ages in oak barrels. But in Ken Loach’s film (available through BBCiPlayer) a portion of a rare and extremely valuable malt is syphoned off in a Highlands Distillery by wily little Robbie (Paul Brannigan) and his three mates from Glasgow, all of whom, like him, are doing community service as an alternative to prison. As often in Loach’s films, the main characters are from a rough working-class background — one might even say underclass — so their language and humour are crude, their lives forever threatened by explosive violence. But Robbie sees a way to get out of this circle of Hell, in which he can’t even get a job interview, let alone a job. His scheme is dishonest, far-fetched, and yet one finds oneself rooting for him and his motley gang. The film’s success rests largely on Paul Brannigan’s performance; there is something very vulnerable, almost childlike, about his nature, which means than one can understand why his very normal, decent girlfriend, Leonie (Siobhan Reilly) sticks by him — and why his Mancunian community service supervisor, Harry (John Henshaw), becomes a sort of surrogate father, determined to keep Robbie from ruining his life. One can see this film as a darkly comic caper, but as always with Ken Loach there is an underlying critique of the way disadvantaged youth is marginalised from mainstream society and the norms that most of us just take for granted.

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