Film Review: Sorry We Missed You is a grueling, heartbreaking yet compassionate drama from Ken Loach

Sorry We Missed You is the latest film from acclaimed British director Ken Loach. Loach has made many great films over the years that delved into social realism. Great works like I, Daniel Blake, It’s a Free World…, Vera Drake, The Wind That Shakes the Barley; all examined the gritty undertakings of the British environment whether in the past or present. Loach has also made fun or lighter films that veer away from social realism and into light whimsical comedies and romances like Looking For Eric and Just A Kiss.

In his latest film, it looks like Loach will be back with his usual bag of tricks as Sorry We Missed You deals with themes like poverty, financial struggle, unfair work practices, family breakdowns and many more. Plus, he is also collaborating with his long-time fellow screenwriter Paul Laverty, who has written scripts for many of Loach’s work. Will Sorry We Missed You be as humane and dramatically satisfying as his other works?

Kris Hitchens stars as Ricky, a hard-working father whose family is struggling to make ends meet and to get food on the table since the 2008 financial crash. Having to move his family from their home to a small apartment and with no formal education or training, he is afforded an opportunity to run a franchise; working as a delivery driver — specifically classified as self-employed — under the tough tutelage of Maloney (Ross Brewster).

In order to afford a van for the job, Ricky convinces his wife Abbie (Debbie Honeywood) to sell the family car; despite the fact that she uses the car for her work as a home care nurse. Over time, the circumstances begin to become overbearing as the job starts to get to Ricky while Abbie struggles to get to her clients on time while relying on public transport. Their two children, high school delinquent Seb (Rhys Stone) and Liza Jane (Katie Proctor) are also having difficult times; with the latter not being attended with her parents while Seb is going through a destructive phase involving truancy and painting graffiti.

Sorry We Missed You — a title that is inspired by the message quote inscribed on delivery message cards — is a bleak yet sympathetic look into crippling working-class domesticity under financial strife and unfair work practices. It is also a heartwarming family drama with wonderful performances that is thankfully free from excessive theatrics. But its depressing outlook may be too overwhelming for audiences to the point that few may be put off.

Loach and screenwriter Laverty have clearly lived and breathed the settings here and they bring the level of verisimilitude to the proceedings; complete with accurate delivery driving tasks and technology and casting non-actors — the best being a police officer who gives a stern lecture to Seb later in the film.

The two also take their time for the audience to know the characters and they gradually turn up the tension as the film goes along; making it easy to care for them. Even when seeing the characters prepare for their jobs with menial preparations like urinating in a bottle to save time or obstructing nostrils before entering into a noxious home; it is the attention to detail that Loach and Laverty strongly adhere to that provides welcome insight into the characters so effortlessly.

While we sympathize for the family, thankfully Loach and Laverty does not make the antagonists cartoons or villains. Maloney does give off an impression that he is downright evil, but thanks to a great monologue later in the film, he is in particular a man who basically takes his hand of cards and plays the capitalism game towards victory, regardless of the victims and their livelihoods. Other antagonists are characters through phone calls — inactive and unhelpful authority figures  — and the leads own deep-seething emotions over their circumstances; they are all doing of what they think is right and they do not actively attempt to cause harm for the sake of it.

The moments of humanity and love are fleeting but when they do make their mark, it is quite touching and rewarding to witness. Moments where the Turner family drive the van together in order to get Abbie to a client or how Ricky spends time with his daughter Liza Jane during work hours are sweet yet depressingly brief.

The performances from the cast — whom all have either never acted before or have little acting experience — are all exemplary. Hitchens nails the balance of portraying the love for his family and his struggle to stick to his filial duty to provide for them. Stone is believably angst-ridden as the oldest son who is figuratively crushed by his living situation while Proctor is compelling as the daughter who is struggling to comprehend the circumstances her family is going through.

Faring the best is Honeywood, who is astounding as she has to be the voice of reason, the face of composure and the loving matriarch of the family. Like Ricky, Abbie is also bound by her duty to care for clients — a term she detests — and the chemistry she has with the many clients in the film is sometimes hard to watch because of how believable the situations are.

While the film is plausible and told with honesty and integrity, the film may reach its breaking point with audiences when it becomes quite torturous towards its characters. While it never reaches the level of melodramas like in telenovelas or Korean dramas — compounding one terminal disease after another — the storytelling by Loach and Laverty does feel calculated in its implementation of drama that the audience is left to wonder if there is any sort of payoff from it.

That said, the ending is both appropriate and heartbreaking to witness as it brings the film to a conclusion that is tragically Sisyphean; but it may not be the satisfying ending that audiences would be expecting as it technically makes the film stop and not end.

Overall, Sorry We Missed You is a compelling piece of work that gets by with honest, verisimilitudinous [sic] storytelling and fantastic performances and its adherence to social realism that only Loach and Laverty can pull off. Just do not expect the film to be an easy watch.

FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Sorry We Missed You will be showing in selected cinemas from Boxing Day.

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