Well I certainly didn’t see this coming. I’ve had a backlog of a few different things I’ve been meaning to review for some time, namely Sherlock and Mean Girls, so as to quench my thirst for retroactive criticism in time for something more current like Hacksaw Ridge. But in a small dalliance with my Scottish ancestry, I attended an informal Burns Night supper and after we’d seen off the Haggis we decided to sit and watch Ken Loach’s The Angel’s Share. Ken Loach is a film-maker I’ve been subconsciously avoiding ever since I was traumatised by watching Kes at a very young age, as his films are often coupled with Mike Leigh productions on account of their heart-breaking social realism which more often than not will depict very earnest people crying into cups of tea. But The Angels’ Share rather took me by surprise.
Sentenced to community service along with a gang of other protagonists of varying degrees of Jockery, main character Robbie is attempting to flee from his former life of crime in order to provide a stable life for his girlfriend and new baby boy (or ‘wee man’; I believe that’s the technical term). As a small reward for their work, their parole officer awards the miscreants with a trip to a whiskey distillery, where Robbie discovers his unique talent for identifying the smells found in a single malt; a talent which springboards the very Scottish heist portion of the film later on.
The film starts as one might imagine a Ken Loach film to start: grittier than your average driveway. Apart from a hilarious scene involving a train station and a bottle of Buckfast Tonic Wine (because SCOTLAND), the film does a good job of highlighting the violence and squalor of the protagonists’ lives. The switchblades and swearing paint a bleak picture of the drug abuse and petty crime, which makes it all the more baffling when the film tosses the whole concept to become Ocean’s Eleven as sponsored by Irn Bru. Certainly Robbie’s violent origins and good intentions are a constant throughout, but this shift in tone is rather a jarring one.
I am wary that this is coming across as criticism, so I should probably make clear the fact that it really isn’t. The charm and comedy in this film is delightful, if a little revolting in places. Somehow genital-based humour is acceptable if its done in a thick Glaswegian burr, and the characters are suitable thick and loveable at the same time, making he laughs consistent without sacrificing the realism of the film. The locations are lovely too, with a few tasty shots of the lochs and glens to contrast with some of the grottier scenes on the Glaswegian council estates. All this with the jaunty accompaniment of The Proclaimers singing ‘I’m Gonna Be’, because really what else could a Scottish film offer by way of soundtrack? Apart from the Pipes and Drums of The Black Watch or something…
All in all I found The Angels’ Share to be something of an undiscovered gem. It completely snuck on me, and I found myself enamoured with its charm and thoroughly taken in by the struggles of the main character. Be it Burns Night or Hogmanay, this is an excellent piece of Scottish cinema which will not leave you disappointed. Pour yourself a Scotch, put your feet up and let this film entertain you, because if I had to sum it up in one word, ‘entertaining’ would certainly make it to my shortlist.