Sorry We Missed You Review
It’s the faces that matter in Ken Loach’s films. Not just because they represent ordinary folk (and often feature non-professional actors) but because they confront us with the truth of the world. And that doesn’t only mean the harsh realities of life and the struggle to make sense of it all. Those faces could easily be a friend or someone in your own family. Those same faces could be you.
Although the irony is that it’s typically the liberal middle classes who spend their time pontificating over Loach’s work while the people his films are about - the people whose lives are given a rare voice in cinema - usually prefer to spend their hard earned money on blockbusters that allow them to escape for two hours. And who can blame them. But that hasn’t stopped Loach for speaking on their behalf for over 50 years, and at 83-years-old he’s just as angry as ever. And if you aren’t left enraged after watching Sorry We Missed You then you really haven’t been paying attention.
Not that there’s a lack of things to be incensed about in modern Britain. Although Brexit continues to dominate the headlines, it’s a symptom of a disease that was contracted by the UK long ago. The decision to leave the EU will probably cause more problems than it will solve, but the route towards the here and now started in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis. It’s a disaster the world has yet to recover from, and the bone crushing austerity that was deemed a ‘necessity’ by the powers that be provided the foundations for Loach’s Palme d'Or-winning I, Daniel Blake in 2016.
Sorry We Missed You is a loose sequel of sorts, remaining in the city of Newcastle but focussing on new characters struggling in the face of financial adversity. While there are similarities it feels necessary to tell this story because of the rapid growth of the gig economy over the past decade. It has allowed businesses of all sizes to exploit families left in desperate need of work after their livelihoods were destroyed by the greed of the financial sector 11 years ago.
Ricky (Kris Hitchen) and wife Abbie Turner (Debbie Honeywood) represent one such family. We meet Ricky eager to sign up for anything as long as it offers money. Sitting across the other side of the desk is his soon-to-be boss Maloney (a self-proclaimed "patron saint of nasty bastards"). Ricky will be taking on a courier 'franchise' that will have him working 14 hours a day, 6 days a week. He’s told he doesn’t drive for the company but instead "performs services". The money he’s paid isn’t a wage, but a "fee". It effectively means in order to keep the job he has to sign away his life, sweat blood and tears and ensure family problems never get in the way of work.
Not that Abbie has it any better. In order to raise the money needed for the deposit on Ricky’s work van she has to sell her car. But she still somehow has to get around the city every day to the OAPs (labelled 'clients' by her company) she tends to as a professional carer. Abbie is on a zero-hour contract which means both parents are rarely at home for their teenage son Seb (Rhys Stone) and the younger Liza Jane (Katie Proctor). And being trapped in this cycle makes it impossible to find any other way of keeping a roof over their heads.
While the bigger targets here are the Amazons and Apples of the world whose shipping policies allow these type of courier firms to exist, a pointed conversation about the digital scanners used by the courier drivers highlights our own complicity. With Ricky doing everything but get on his knees to ask for time off work, the unforgiving Maloney explains that customer needs rule everything. They could care less about Ricky’s personal problems, he says, they just want their package delivered as promised. E-commerce is slowly eating up the high street and beyond enjoying the low prices and fast turnarounds, it begs the question about how often we stop to think about the larger costs involved to achieve that.
As you’d expect in a Loach film the humanity of the characters hits home hard. The naturalism of the performances make it feel more like a documentary at times, so entrenched are we in the reality of these character’s lives. There are occasional stutters in the delivery of dialogue but that only adds to the truthfulness of the moment and is also a result of Loach’s preferred shooting style that avoids pre-rehearsals and table reads. What we get back are layered portrayals of genuine people, from Stones’ good boy turned bad selfishness and Proctor’s calm head on young shoulders, to Hitchen’s growing frustration and Honeywood’s softly spoken determination.
Amidst all the hardship and difficulties facing the Turner family, as always, Loach sweetens the pill with moments of humour that still somehow shine through even in the hardest of circumstances. It’s those small connections to something beyond the daily grind that can get you back into the comfort of your bed at night. While Loach’s 26th feature film doesn’t offer hope that change exists over the horizon, it is nonetheless essential viewing no matter your political beliefs or class background. Whether you think it works as a film or not, if you aren’t left worried about the state of worker’s rights in 2019 and beyond, then the problem definitely lies closer to home.
Sorry We Missed You opens in UK cinemas on November 1.