Set in Glasgow at the start, it’s a film by Ken Loach about a group of offenders at Glasgow’s City Court. They get community service under the supervision of Harry (John Henshaw), a Mancunian. He mentors Robbie (Peter Brannigan), who is on a serious assault charge, but his girlfriend is pregnant so he’s on community service. Robbie is pursued by vicious thugs and his girlfriend’s father tries to pack him off to London. Harry gets the offenders interested in whiskey, and at a whiskey tasting conference in Edinburgh they learn about a very expensive whiskey. They go up to northern Scotland where this whiskey is being auctioned. They steal it and plan to sell it. Robbie does a deal with a buyer’s agent and they might live happily ever after…
This is another film by Ken Loach in which the jolly capers of crime have replaced the political debates of his earlier films. In Looking for Eric Eric Cantona and friends get revenge on Mancunian gangsters, here the thuggish Robbie finds a purpose in his skilled taste for whiskey but he’s still a criminal as he gets one up on the world. This is like a jokey Cooke’s Tour of working class Scotland. Loach, like Mike Leigh, has a lifelong interest in the quaint anthropology of the working now under-class and its brutal life. Here the working class gets the less noble savage treatment (as opposed to the political films), presumably he’s given up on attempts at socialist politics. Apparently, Robbie and his friends are not professional actors, so they display the usual wooden self-consciousness of the non- professional. This is supposed to make things more authentic, after all aren’t the underclass uneducated and inarticulate? They use their wits to get the hugely expensive whiskey and make money from it, but it looks just like another attempt at caper hilarity. There is no redemption for Robbie through inner struggle, just him and his friends getting the better of other people.
In Harry Loach recycles the kindly mentor role of Colin Welland in Kes and he looks like Brian Glover (the sports teacher from that film). There is the same superior fascination with the antics of working people with a hobby, in Kes it’s the training of a kestrel and in Angels’ Share it’s whiskey. Robbie and co have learned nothing except to steal from the rich (a barrel of whiskey worth a million pounds), yet we’re supposed to find this pseudo-Robin Hood stuff quite endearing. Loach has stopped making thoughtful films and now looks as if he is theme-parking the sad remnants of the industrial working class for global consumption. The Angels’ Share of the title refers to the 2% of whiskey that evaporates in the cask throughout the year, and it looks as if we don’t get much more in the way of a sympathetic film. An unlikeable and exploitative film.