Great Scottish movies are hard to come by. Often they take a stereotypical, or romantic view of the nation and fail to get into its heart, or appreciate the way it’s changed since the kilts and FREEDOM!!! of Braveheart.
It’s perhaps ironic that it’s been two englishmen in Danny Boyle (Trainspotting, Shallow Grave) and Ken Loach (Sweet Sixteen, Ae Fond Kiss, My Name is Joe) who have managed to portray modern Scotland with both realism and affection.
Perhaps unlike Loach’s last few films in Scotland, however, The Angel’s Share has a lot more in common with that other great recent(-ish) director of Scottish films, Bill Forsyth (Local Hero, Gregory’s Girl). There’s a certain optimism to this film we normally don’t associate with the director of films like The Wind That Shakes The Barley and Route Irish.
The film’s plot sees Robbie (Paul Brannigan) try and build a new life for himself and his girlfriend Leonie (Siobhan Reilly) who are days away from becoming parents when the film starts. Unfortunately, Robbie’s time in jail, and bitter rivalry with another local family are making this hard to do.
After being charged with assault, Robbie narrowly avoids jail but has to do community service. There he meets Harry (John Henshaw), who takes him and the rest of the motley crew to a distillery where Robbie becomes fascinated by the process and art of whisky making. Could this be the thing that allows him to set himself to make the new start he is looking for?
Although a mainly positive film, The Angel’s Share never backs away from the real problems its characters face, or the real harm they have caused. Robbie is the film’s protagonist, but in one of the film’s best scenes he’s forced to meet face-to-face with the boy he assaulted, and ultimately served time for.
The anger, fear, remorse and regret between the victim, his family and their attacker is almost unwatchable as through flashbacks we see just how violent and sadistic Robbie once was. This makes it all the more tense when we see Robbie later in the film square up to folk: will he return to his old ways? Will he be able to stop himself?
As well as the combination of realism with warmth and humour, there’s also a great juxtaposition of the main working class characters with the rich middle classes normally associated with the love of fine whisky.
Later in the film, Robbie and his friends take a pilgrimage (of sorts) to see the finest whisky there is, and there’s a great humour in seeing the Scotland of fairytales, highlands and kilts with these far more rough, ready and down-to-earth chancers.
As the film ends, it could be argued that the way the choices Robbie makes suggest the only way out of his situation is through immorality. However, it could be argued that they are consistent with the established code of the characters, and are ultimately victimless in their execution. Loach also shows us they are not the only criminals on screen, and people who commit much more financially beneficial crimes appear to get away with them much more easily.
With it’s great melting pot of humour, realism, depth, and hope, The Angel’s Share is a film with a great heart that is almost impossible not to love. I also guarantee you’ll never look at a bottle of Irn Bru in the same way again.