Whisky Galore meets Trainspotting? Well not quite, but you get the idea. The Angels’ Share is directed by the veteran film director Ken Loach, so a charming heartwarming bittersweet comedy comes juxtaposed with a gritty backdrop of the pubs and tower blocks of Carntyne in the east end of Glasgow, populated with lowlife youngsters with no hope of a job, struggling to stay alive, let alone live life – a movie for which he won the Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival.
Robbie (Paul Brannigan) is one of a group of habitual youth offenders sentenced by a gnat’s whisker to community service rather than a custodial sentence for giving a vicious and unprovoked beating to an innocent young man. The scene where he is confronted with his victim and family is searingly emotional – I defy anyone not to be wiping away tears at that moment.
His girlfriend’s family hate Robbie, all the more so since Leonie (Siobhan Reilly) is about to give birth to Robbie’s son – and his warning to stay away comes with a beating of his own, and later an offer of money to leave. What hope does he have of making a life outside Glasgow for Leonie and young Luke?
As it turns out, the community service is the source of redemption, not only for Robbie but Albert, Rhino and Mo too (Gary Maitland, William Ruane and Jasmin Riggins), and it comes in the person of jovial Mancunian supervisor Harry (John Henshaw.) Harry gets the team working, takes a shine to Robbie and, crucially, enthuses him about the art of making – and tasting – single malt whisky.
But fortunes are transformed when the team hear of the auction of a cask of the rarest malt of the lot, Malt Mill. With it comes an opportunity to help the team to escape the slums for good. Kilt-bound, the team hitch-hikes from the urban sprawl of Glasgow and out into the beauteous Highlands, complete with distilleries and a plot to hijack a few bottles of the precious liquid and transform it into hard cash, courtesy of devious whisky collector with the unlikely name ofThaddeus Maloney (the ubiquitous Roger Allam.)
If I had any criticisms of Angels’ Share they would be pretty churlish. One would be the speed of Robbie’s conversion from street kid to apparent expert in rare whiskies, whatever his aptitude. The other would be the use in the soundtrack of the Proclaimers’ Five Hundred Miles, not because there is anything wrong with the song but because it is even more ubiquitous than Mr Allam in British, and notably Scottish movies.
But ignore my nit picking. This is Loach at his superlative best, though slightly less harrowing than some of his hard-core social conscience movies. He is aided by a livewire script from Paul Laverty. Both probably feel happier describing Robbie’s moral dilemma in the rough tough streets of Glasgow but the light and shade of the film’s departure into the Highlands, and thereby blossoms into light breezy comedy and then ultimately into Robbie’s transformation from a youngster told he would never be anything into a decent partner, father and man is handled with panache.
If, like me, you remember the superlative Kes, Loach’s soaring tragicomic elation will already be familiar to you. Angels’ Share is a movie every sensible adult should watch, the sort where you will be blubbing one minute and chortling the next, providing you can put up with a rich vein of bloody violence and the richer language of the Glasgow streets. It’s fresh, tasty, realistic (up to the point, providing you can believe the great malt is siphoned off without a hint of security presence) and most Americans wouldn’t understand the Scottish accents. What more can you ask for?