The Angel’s Share

Last evening I went along to a (fairly) local cinema to see Ken Loach‘s latest film, The Angel’s Share. It’s WONDERFUL! If you get the chance go and see it.  I promise you’re in for an intelligent, life-affirming, warm, funny, hope-filled, movie experience.  The screen play is written by Paul Laverty, who has collaborated with Ken Loach on several films.  This film, likened by some to a modern, more gritty, ‘Whiskey Galore,’ tells the story of Robbie, Rhino, Albert and Mo; four young people thrown together by their respective court- sentenced Community Pay-Back.  Robbie, described  as a ‘wee thug’ is a young man whose life has been marked by poverty and deprivation.  We learn from his court advocate that Robbie has already served time for committing a violent assault, but that in the ten months since his release he has endeavoured to change his behaviour and that he now has a long-term partner, Leonie who is about to give birth to their first child.  His recent relapse, which has brought him back to court is part of  a life-time’s feud with a neighbouring family.  The judge decides to give Robbie another chance and so, instead of the five years’ incarceration he may have expected, Robbie gets 300 hours Community Payback.  Robbie vows to be the best Dad and partner he can be – but it seems that circumstances  decree that once a ‘wee thug’ all you can ever be is a’wee thug.’  The film then charts Robbie, (and his companions’), as he sets out to seek the Holy Grail of a real job and a new life, in which he can become the man he seeks to be.  The trailer to the film tells us, ‘to make a change, you need a chance,’ and through the film we see the changes and chances offered on the way.  There is Harry, an angel in human form who offers Robbie friendship and the chance to believe that things can be different.  It is Harry too, who introduces Robbie to whiskey and the craft involved in making it, that provides him with the catalyst to a new life.  Later on we, briefly, meet Grace who offers Robbie and Leonie her home for six months, (while she’s away in London), a chance to move from their own neighbourhood – described by Leonie’s Dad as, “no place to bring up a ******* wain.”  (Yup, the language is very, very earthy).  When they ask her why she’s being so generous Grace replies, “Someone once gave me a chance, and it changed my life.”  In the event, Robbie doesn’t get to take up her offer because the rival gang he’s had so much trouble with have followed him there.  It seems that even when offered a chance, he won’t be allowed to take it.

Robbie, despite everything still hopes.  He has seen in some of the people around him that there may still be another way.  Harry’s interest whiskey tasting has awakened Robbie’s senses of smell and taste and he finds that he is a ‘natural’ when it comes to discerning whiskey.  This newly found talent becomes the way to make the biggest change of all.  I’m not going to give any more of the plot away – because really you need to go and see for yourself – it’ll be worth it.  I will tell you though, that the ‘Angel’s Share’ is the term used in whiskey making, that is used to describe the 2% of whiskey that evaporates each year in the cask, as the whiskey ages.

In many ways this film could have turned out to be acutely depressing.  It is a mark of the Laverty/Loach collaboration that is actually life-affirming and funny. Much of it seems more like documentary than fiction – something Ken Loach is known for.  Set in Glasgow, it doesn’t try to hide the fact that there are few jobs; violence is a way of life for many and youngsters left with little or no hope turn readily to drugs and alcohol to ease the pain.  However, the stereotypes are brushed aside and Paul Laverty’s young people are given much more rounded and complicated treatment.  For one thing, they’re often funny.  Albert, in particular, is hilarious.  His drunken antics at the edge of a railway platform in the opening scene had the cinema laughing out loud! Added to that the characters show vulnerability, compassion and love and together, a great camaraderie. For me, the major theme in this film is redemption, the chance of a new life, like a slave whose freedom has been purchased.  Last Sunday I was talking to a group of people about this theme, which is one of the central tenets of Christianity.  Jesus Christ, acting as our kinsman, pays the price and allows us to be taken out of the market place to be free men and women – no longer enslaved to the powers of this world which would have us believe that we can never be more than a ‘wee thug.’  I don’t know if Laverty or Loach are people of faith, (if not, I’m genuinely surprised),   but another strong theme is the one of love that plays all the way through.  It’s Robbie’s love for Leonie and his little son, Luke that spur him on to become more than he thought he would be; and it’s the love he finds in Harry and the gang that support him as he continues to strive for his goal.

The hard truth is though, even as I relish in this delight of a film, today there will be young men and women living Robbie’s life in Glasgow and all over the world, who will never have the chance to make the changes Robbie does.  Robbie is played by Paul Brannigan, a young man whose own life shares many similarities with Robbie’s.  He, too, decided to seek a better life for himself when he became father to his son, Leon. He is, though, every bit as exceptional as the character he plays on screen.  I think of some of the young people I know who live on a housing estate with few services and fewer resources.  Why do we allow this separation amongst people?  Why do some have more than enough, whilst others have so little?  Why do some young people enjoy loving homes, a good education, nutritious food whilst others are faced with violence, poor standards of schooling and a diet of cheap take away food?  Why do we accept that this is the way it has to be?

This film is a challenge to all who believe that EVERY human life is important and that EVERYONE deserves a chance.  ‘Nuff said – Amen!

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