The Angel’s Share

Ken Loach's whiskey-fueled comedy-drama

The Angel’s Share

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Directed by Ken Loach. Starring Paul Brannigan, John Henshaw, Gary Maitland, William Ruane, Roger Allam, Jasmin Riggins, Siobhan Reilly. Written by Paul Laverty.

What initially seems to be a hard-hitting social drama turns into a warm-hearted heist comedy in director Ken Loach’s The Angel’s Share, a crowd-pleasing effort that hits all the right notes despite a lack of originality. Working from a script by long-time collaborator Paul Laverty, the film represents the director’s return to the lighter realm of the duo’s Looking for Eric after 2010’s darker Route Irish.

An opening scene at a police hearing introduces us to Glasgow youth Robbie (Paul Brannigan), a street tough sentenced to community service after his latest run-in with a local rival. Robbie vows to turn his life around for the sake of girlfriend Leonie (Siobhan Reilly) and the couple’s unborn child, though her father isn’t interested in giving him another chance.

But community service supervisor Harry (John Henshaw) wants to see Robbie start anew, and does his best to help him put a new foot forward. On the work detail, Robbie pals up with other troubled youths, including friendly Rhino (William Ruane), dunderhead Albert (Gary Maitland), and kleptomaniac Mo (Jasmin Riggins).

Harry’s love of good whiskey sparks an interest in Robbie, even though he can barely get the stuff down (“Can I add some coke to it?”). Trips to a local distillery and a whiskey-tasting seminar furthers the passion, and the revelation of a recently-discovered cask of “priceless” whiskey about to go up for auction gets Robbie thinking.

Brannigan (this is his first film role) is a revelation: his rugged-youth features and impenetrable exterior lend an authentic credence to the character. Newcomers Maitland and Riggins leave a similarly memorable impression. As the genial Harry, Henshaw is able to nicely pull the cast of (mostly) non-professionals together.

The Angel’s Share won the Jury Prize at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, which feels about right; while the plot, once established, covers a lot of familiar ground, director Loach is careful to keep the focus on his characters and never overstays their welcome. He also manages to get a number of genuine laughs along the way, especially from Maitland’s impossibly moronic Albert.

The Angel’s Share makes full use of its Scotland setting, with some lovely Highland cinematography courtesy of Robbie Ryan. Climatic incorporations of traditional kilt wearing and The Proclaimers’ I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles), however, verge on the stereotypical.

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The “angel’s share” of the title refers to the small percentage of the whiskey that evaporates while in the cask over time.

Note: some thick Scottish accents can occasionally be difficult to decipher, though they’re not nearly as thick as the Irish ones in Loach’s The Wind That Shakes the Barley.

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