A few years ago, Ken Loach made waves with his film I, Daniel Blake; a damning indictment of the British benefits system under the Conservative government, well, three years later and his crosshairs are still very much focused on perceived injustices in modern day life.
It’s hard to separate Loach’s politics from his filmmaking, and I presume that’s the way he likes it, his films are there to challenge opinions on social norms, and that’s what makes him stand out as a filmmaker, hell, he even came out retirement, such was his passion in making I, Daniel Blake.
But there is something to be said for revisiting the same well to many times, as it usually ends in diminishing returns, with someone as experienced as Loach, you expect that he won’t stumble at that particular hurdle.
A married couple, affected by the financial crash of the late 2000’s struggle along with jobs that take over their every waking hour, their home lives suffer and soon everything starts to deteriorate.
As I said in the introduction, it’s nigh-on impossible to separate this film from its political message, which, luckily, will resonate with a great many people in modern-day Britain, and maybe further afield.
I’ve seen this film described as an indictment of the so-called ‘gig ecomony’ and while it most certainly is that, it is also so much more.
It’s a look at how much terms of employment can affect the family dynamic, parents working every hour of the day, with familiar relations falling by the wayside.
The story revolves around a family of 4 in Newcastle, a notoriously working class city whose history is entangled with class struggle (for more information on this, Google ‘U.K. Miners Strike’ and you’re sure to find info, or alternatively, watch Billy Elliot) therefore, the choice of city is a shrewd one, it offers a reliable and recognisable backdrop for the story.
The story’s a strong one too, written by Loach’s frequent collaborator Paul Laverty, who also wrote I, Daniel Blake, along with almost everything Loach has done this century. It follows a kitchen-sink approach to storytelling, building a highly recognisable and relatable family unit. Not only that, but they’ve made the members of this family each have their own struggles which makes the audience empathise.
Their struggle is not an uncommon one, as is shown in a neat little way of giving exposition without making it seem clunky, we see a picture of the family in happier times, close to completing a major purchase of a house, before the bottom falls out of the economy; this means that we catch the distant aftermath of these events. The father, Ricky (played astonishingly well by Kris Hitchen) has bounced around small, manual jobs, but struggled to keep a steady job, and the mother, Abby (an equally impressive Debbie Honeywood) works long hours on a zero-hours contract as a carer.
All of these things for a background of creating a pressure furnace surrounding the family, one that boils in the background as stress, debt, and children who have strayed from the path all lay on top of our protagonists, and they’re so well characterised that’s you start to feel their pressure, there are parts of the film I found genuinely hard to watch, not in a bad way, but in the way that I didn’t want more misery to befall these character who have struggled enough.
To me, that reflects a writer on top of his game, creating characters and situations that we recognise from our own living rooms, and struggles that hit so close to home it becomes genuinely poignant. It is a damning look at the ‘gig economy’ in one aspect, but it’s also damning of a general lack of support around families at their breaking point, and there were moments of such emotional strain and pressure that it almost brought a tear to my eye.
Ken Loach as a filmmaker has always had an eye for portraying working class stories in a way that doesn’t patronise, or demonise, in fact his finger of blame is pointed firmly at the people who created the situation, and his fervent support of the U.K. Labour Party just proves this, he’s now in his eighties and making films with real political grit and life, so much so that you’d think he was a much younger man.
In conclusion, I found Sorry We Missed You to be utterly spellbinding, and compulsive viewing for anyone who enjoys Loach’s previous work. It doesn’t revolve around Galaxy-ending threats or supervillains, but you will come to loath some characters far more than any of those could achieve. Loach is an 83-year-old filmmaker with the life and drive of a man half his age, not just a drive for good films, but a heart for social justice that forms the beating heart of his narratives, something that is increasingly rare, and in some respects brave, it’s a stirring look at what reality is like for many people caught through the lens of a seasoned expert, who is still on top of his game, no matter his age.
A genuine modern masterpiece that will sit with I, Daniel Blake as a reflection of the period we currently live, maybe one day we can look back on it and be glad people are no longer in the same position. A personal, heart wrenching tale that hits its mark every step of the way.