Cannes 2019: Sorry We Missed You Review
Ken Loach has been making angry political films for decades, and yet despite household name status, British cinephiles have largely overlooked his work - it’s been frequently stated that his unapologetically socialist films are far better received on the continent than his home country. Then, with 2016’s I, Daniel Blake, something unexpected happened: he finally tapped into Britain’s public consciousness, delivering the right message at the right time, and made his biggest impact in the country’s politics since Cathy Come Home fifty years prior.
With a rare commercial success under his belt, not to mention one that unexpectedly generated a million thinkpieces and even questions in the houses of parliament, it’s not surprising to see Loach and regular screenwriter Paul Laverty have stuck as close to that winning formula as possible. Whereas Daniel Blake took aim at the heartlessness of the benefits system, Sorry We Missed You examines another widespread cause of working class poverty - the gig economy, where workers are exploited and overworked, with endless legal loopholes stopping them from obtaining basic rights to sick leave and time off. The similarities with Daniel Blake are immediately apparent right down to the Newcastle setting, but the film remains ever so slightly within its shadow; it’s a tragic portrayal of the effects of living within a broken system designed to undermine the rights of working class people, but there is still a sense of familiarity to the issues Loach is exploring here. It’s powerful, but it does often feel like an effective extension to his previous film as opposed to a project that stands on its own two feet.
Ricky (Kris Hitchen) is introduced in the midst of a job interview that sounds too good to be true; driving for a delivery company, where he can effectively be his own boss. But the problems are numerous, from fourteen hour shifts to strict job targets and a lack of paid leave, even in terms of illness. His wife, Abbie (Debbie Honeywood), has sold her car in order to pay for Ricky’s new van, a decision which begins to have major ramifications in their chosen professions - and when son, Seb (Rhys Stone), gets suspended from school, the family’s problems only become worse, having to prioritise working over repairing problems in order to pay each month’s rent.
The end credits thank the numerous delivery drivers who spoke to Paul Laverty during his writing process, although despite the in-depth research the screenwriter normally takes when writing Loach’s projects, you can practically hear the right wing columnists typing their think pieces from here. On the one hand, there’s no denying the harrowing nature of events onscreen, or the precedent that they have in real life - but in order to demonstrate the importance of the issue to the average cinema audience, there is a cartoonish caricature to the antagonists that ever so slightly undercuts the realism. Despite a rather fun performance from Ross Brewster as Ricky’s manager Maloney, a self-proclaimed “bastard”, there is a heightened sense of heartlessness to the character that feels unnecessary, as if to make his obvious antagonism even more apparent. One sequence where he waxes lyrical about how he takes pride in refusing to give workers time off, even after the attempted suicides of family members or pressing health matters, doesn’t ring true; these things happen, but would the perpetrators happily regurgitate this to their employees, all in the name of meeting targets?
It’s these cartoonish elements that may make some audiences dismiss it as a fantasy of the “loony left”, rather than an issue that needs to be tackled to stop the exploitation of Britain’s zero hours contract workforce. Which would be a shame, as there is a heartbreaking portrayal of the mounting stress caused by overworking at the film’s centre, where everything from family life to the state of your health gets neglected in the name of making sure you don’t get fines deducted from your wages. I, Daniel Blake was more direct in its emotional impact due to its tightly focused character study, with direct life and death consequences as a result of heartless conservative policy. Here, the ramifications of politics are pre-existing; the weight of the financial crash overshadows the characters at the beginning, and will keep them at work counter to their needs for the unforeseeable future. To say more would be to ruin the film’s heartbreaking ending; with a small scale family tragedy extensively researched and depicted as realistically as this, the inevitable cries of “propaganda” from right wing writers will once again be ill-considered, even if Loach and Laverty unfortunately give them enough ammunition in some of their characterisations.
Sorry We Missed You is currently scheduled to open in UK cinemas on November 1.