Category Archives: Ken Loach

What I’ve Been Watching: The Angel’s Share

TheAngelsShareGreat 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.

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What I’ve Been Watching: Route Irish

Route irish movie poster 2010 1020681415Ken Loach’s Route Irish, contrary to what the uninformed may be led to believe, is not a sequel to Palme d’Or winning The Wind The Shakes The Barley. Instead Route Irish refers to the highly volatile iraqi road between Baghdad Airport and The Green Zone.

The film centres on Fergus, whose best friend Frankie recently lost his life on Route Irish. Fergus is immediately suspicious of the circumstances surrounding his friend’s death, and takes it upon himself to get the answers the security firm Frankie worked for have so far failed to give.

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What I’ve Been Watching: NEDS

British-Movies-UK-Film-Neds-Poster-e1289264928933.jpgPeter Mullan’s third directorial feature sees him revisit his youth. As a teenager he was involved in one of the gangs that existed in South Glasgow in the 70s. NEDS is a fictional story based around those experiences.

NED, for those of you not from Scotland, stands for Non Educated Delinquent. It can be thought of as fairly interchangeable with the word ‘Chav’, or what our American cousins might call ‘White Trash’. Although arguably ‘NED’ has more thuggish implications associated with it that these other two terms.

The film itself begins with its main character, John, starting high school. Having succeeded academically at his primary, he is at first keen to do well. However, one summer this all changes. Having befriended a middle class boy during the holidays, he is soon told by his friend’s mother to stay away from the house. This snub leads him to befriending a local gang. His older brother’s reputation giving him the respect he needs to be accepted.

What follows is a spiral of violence and disillusionment as John discovers just how easy it is to hurt someone and get away with it. Fans of The Wire will see in John, a similarity to Michael from season four. They share an intelligence but inscrutability that makes them impossible to predict. Newcomer Conor McCarron should be given a lot of character for creating a character capable of conveying so many different emotions over the course of the film.

Peter Mullan is a man clearly influenced by another great director of British social realism, Ken Loach. The two worked together on My Name Is Joe. Fans of the latter movie will note that all of its four main actors appear in one form or another in NEDS.

Admirers of Ken Loach will feel right at home in Mullan’s NEDS, with its sympathetic but painful look at working class life. It is a grim, uncompromising film that constantly asks questions of its audience.

While NEDS is undoubtedly successful in showing a teen’s growing addiction to gang violence, it is ground that has been covered before in other excellent films (e.g. City of God). As such, I would argue its greatest strength is in its portrayal of John’s family. With a mother desperate, but unable to help him; an abusive, alcoholic father (played by Mullan himself); and a brother who John holds in high esteem; it was these interactions I found to be the most interesting.

Almost certainly based on Mullan’s own upbringing, there is a presence and terror to his portrayal of John’s father, I found deeply troubling and unsettling. As such, it was the issues raised by the familial interactions, rather than within the gang, I have found myself thinking about since seeing the film.

NEDS is a film deeply routed in a tradition of films of its ilk set in Glasgow. Sweet Sixteen, My Name Is Joe, and Ratcatcher being a few recent examples. It represents a world fair removed from what we normally see in Hollywood blockbusters, and people who like to see movies as a form of escapism, should probably avoid it. NEDS represents the opposite of escapism; films that force us to confront the realities of the world we live in, and the problems we wish we could ignore.

For those of you who are interested, this interview with Peter Mullan is a great insight into the things in NEDS which are based on his own troubled experiences growing up:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/2001/jan/07/features.magazine