The Angels’ Share, the new film from veteran chronicler of social injustice Ken Loach, is a bit of a collision of genres but in the end a rather enjoyable one. It’s set in Glasgow, where a group of young offenders doing community service fall under the kindly wing of Harry (played by familiar TV actor John Henshaw), a benevolent supervisor who believes in giving the disadvantaged a second chance and is also something of a fan of whisky distilleries. Lead character Robbie (Paul Brannigan) has just become a father and is determined to put his chequered and occasionally violent past behind him, but is experiencing inevitable run-ins with past adversaries and his girlfriend’s disapproving family – fortunately he’s bright and resourceful enough to recognise an opportunity when it comes his way, even when it’s one that’s going to entail more than a little risk and deception.
This is a game of two halves and no mistake. The early scenes are impeccably social-realist and frequently quite gruelling, with beatings, expletive-laden confrontations and painful personal dilemmas depicted frankly, though thankfully with enough humanity and moments of light relief to keep them watchable. There’s a very authentic feel to proceedings, no doubt helped by the presence of many non-professional actors in the cast. When the whisky kicks in about halfway through the film however so does the main plot, and most of the unpleasantness is left behind in favour of a witty and adroitly played out caper involving the manipulation of a highly exclusive auction of an impossibly rare cask of single malt. This part of the film is delightful, a bit reminiscent of an Ealing comedy or the early films of the great Bill Forsyth, with tension, comedy and unexpected reversals held in perfect balance. Much credit is due to Loach, his screen writer Paul Laverty and the young cast for pulling off this impressive conversion of feel-grim to feel-good, which is achieved without too much of an audible gear grind, and with one or two moments that had the audience I watched the film with either laughing as one or gasping with dismay. Recommended – just don’t walk out half way through or you’ll miss a treat.