The transformation of Robbie (Paul Brannigan) from a young delinquent Glaswegian to an emboldened connoisseur of whisky sounds like a fairytale. And if there’s one criticism of Ken Loach’s The Angels’ Share it’s that this small, well-crafted story is just a little too good to be true.
Young Robbie is engaged in ‘last chance’ community service with a group of other minor offenders when the birth of his son with girlfriend Leonie (Siobhan Reilly) brings him closer to his social worker Harry (John Henshaw). Harry and Robbie drink to the boy with a tot of Scotland’s finest and in the twinkle of a tumbler, Robbie has a new passion and, possibly, a new life. Leonie’s dad is not impressed. It’s up to Robbie and his friends to plan an elaborate heist of some valuable whisky to get his career up and running.
Dressed in kilts, they head to the Highlands to find that pot of liquid gold. Visually, the film is a treat: from the violence of Robbie’s semi-slummed Glasgow to liberating hillside vistas, the opposition between what was and what might be is perfectly set up. And Loach’s choice to use unexperienced actors makes for unencumbered acceptance of some very raw diamond faces (Roger Allam as a canny Sassenach whisky specialist is the brilliant exception).
The fault lies in the slight unease accompanying the transition from hardship to luck. The potential tipping points back into dead-end desperation could – heist genre notwithstanding – have been exploited for just that droplet more of effect. That aside, Loach’s hymn to today’s Scotland works like a charm.
The Angels’ Share | Directed by Ken Loach (UK, France, Belgium, Italy 2012) with Paul Brannigan, John Henshaw, Gary Maitland, Roger Allam. Starts October 18