The Angels’ Share

Paul Brannigan in The Angels' Share


A movie for every day of the year – a good one



5 March


The Proclaimers born, 1962

On this day in 1962, the brothers Charlie and Craig Reid were born in Leith, Scotland. Later known as The Proclaimers, the identical twins were in a string of punk bands before forming their own band in 1983. One-hit wonders in many parts of the world, thanks to their song 500 Miles, the brothers have had a number of hits in their home country, ever since their debut tour, supporting the Housemartins in 1986. The song Sunshine on Leith is the anthem of Hibernian FC, of whom they are fans, and Charlie and Craig lent support to keep Hibs out of the hands of Wallace Mercer, a businessman who also had connections to Heart of Midlothian FC, the team’s city rivals. The Proclaimers continue to tour and release albums and continue to support causes they feel strongly about. A jukebox musical, Sunshine on Leith, consisting solely of their songs, was created by Dundee Rep, and was so successful that it was adapted into a film with the same title.




The Angels’ Share (2012, dir: Ken Loach)

The obvious choice here would have been Sunshine on Leith, the musical based on The Proclaimers’ music. But it’s a missed opportunity – who turns the joyous 500 Miles into a dirge, for god’s sake? Instead let’s look at this Ken Loach film which uses 500 Miles as an uplifting sonic sting in a film that’s all about redemption. The film moves quickly out of what might be called traditional Loach territory – serial juvenile offender Robbie (Paul Brannigan) becomes a young dad, is beaten up by his girlfriend’s uncles, works on the community payback scheme – into something altogether more upbeat once Robbie has been introduced to the sublime nuance of proper good whisky. In the film’s key scene our guy is soon conducting his own informal whisky tasting at home, an evening of discussion, discourse, appreciation, education, while his unreconstructed mate lies on the sofa farting, watching the TV and eventually trying to down the spittoon in which Robbie and his fellow proto-connoisseurs have been depositing their leavings. For a Loach film this whole idea – edification through the finer things – seems almost a heresy. He’s spent much of his career more or less pointing out that middle class affectation is part of some great conspiracy to keep working people in their place. Maybe Loach is getting old and soft and a bit sentimental, but his decision to propel Robbie from one social position to another gives his film an arc. And it allows Loach and writer Paul Laverty to examine a phenomenon we don’t see much in films – the way that global luxury brands often operate hugger mugger with the socially deprived. So, leftist credentials endorsed. But hang on a minute, what about the plot? Yes, plot. Robbie, having become something of an expert – a tiny wee bit of an expert only but it’s enough – finds himself visiting a whisky distillery, where an opportunity for him to combine his old skill, thievery, and his new one, fine whisky connoisseurship, presents itself. Loach and Laverty, once they’ve abandoned the grimly familiar, dive wholeheartedly into part two of the story, which combines the Caledonian whimsy of Whisky Galore, the roguish scruffiness of That Sinking Feeling with the tweedy fraternity of Local Hero. If none of those films mean anything to you, how about The Full Monty meets Trainspotting?



Why Watch?


  • Another example of Ken Loach’s late-career embrace of Hollywood genre
  • A real sense of the joyousness of whisky tasting
  • A fun comedy with something to say
  • The subtitles will help when the local dialect becomes impenetrable


© Steve Morrissey 2014



The Angels’ Share – at Amazon





The Wind That Shakes the Barley

Cillian Murphy and Pádraic Delaney in The Wind That Shakes the Barley



A polemic rather than a drama, about a blameless Irish lad who becomes a Republican after seeing with his own eyes what the British are up to. Cillian Murphy plays the lad, peaceable to the point of cowardice, the prospective medical student who is caught up in the struggle to get the Brits out of Ireland in the 1920s. His brother (Pádraic Delaney) meanwhile heads off in the other direction – initially bellicose but softening his stance when a political compromise (a “sell out”) is brokered. Director Ken Loach’s film is partisan to the point of ludicrousness – at one point the Brits are depicted swooshing by in cars with their heads tilted upwards in the cinematic shorthand reserved for Nazi officers. Worse than that the film is also quite stupendously dull. Though it has received good reviews in quarters where any fight against colonial powers, any depiction of the Irish as good, any kicking of the Brits (it was a long time ago, guys) gets nodded through. Loach, generally a director at his worst when he’s wagging the finger, efficiently brings writer/collaborator Paul Laverty’s dry screenplay to life, a mix of battles out in the overcast countryside and verbal jousts back in the bars, courtrooms and churches of the urban landscape. Murphy is saddled with a one-ply character and is incapable of doing much with it. The blame here is squarely with Laverty, whose last feature-length collaboration with Loach was Ae Fond Kiss, another conversion of a social issue (marriage between a white woman and Asian man) into leaden drama.

© Steve Morrissey 2013


The Wind That Shakes the Barley – at Amazon