Not the most orthodox thing you’ll find here on Edinburgh Whisky Blog but The Angels Share isn’t a film that just uses whisky as a reference point. It is one that embraces the very nature of what we love about the whisky industry. It also looks at a less pretty side of Scotland that is more interested in high caffeine content high alcohol wines. Here’s our thoughts anyway. Please be gentle. It’s our first film review…
The Angels Share
Director: Ken Loach
Running Time: 101 mins
Cast: Gary Maitland, Jasmin Riggins, John Henshaw, Paul Brannigan, Roger Allam, Siobhan Reilly, William Ruane
‘ The Angels’ Share’ is the sort of film that can easily split an audience here in Edinburgh. Some have experienced the type of Scotland that the film portrays at certain times and others haven’t. I’m not going to say that I know what it is like to grow up in the worst areas of Glasgow, not by a long shot, but I have seen the uglier side of what is often a country portrayed as one of just beautiful landscapes and patriots fighting for freedom. The first half of ‘The Angels’ Share’ is all about the sort hostile lifestyle some people face day to day. Robbie (newcomer Paul Brannigan) has led a life of violence due to his short-temper and the generational feuds he has been burdened with. After the birth of his first son, at a time while he is on community service and on his last chance before being sent to prison, Robbie swears to turn his life around and make sure that his boy doesn’t fall into the same pitfalls he has. Helped by his caring social worker Harry, who harbors a passion for whisky, Robbie discovers that he has a talented nose for the aromas of Scotland’s national drink. In order to escape his current situation and provide a better life for his young family Robbie instigates a plan to get hold of some very valuable whisky.
The film is clearly one of two halves- the first being a gritty social look at the worst parts of the west of Scotland and the second is something like Ocean’s 11 if you swap Las Vegas for Edderton. And the all star cast for a bunch of young Scottish up and comers. Apart from that it’s the exactly the same. Except it’s a distillery and not a Casino. You get the idea though…
During the film’s first half our best emotional connection is towards Robbie’s girlfriend Leonie (don’t even get me started on that mess of a name). We learn of some, if not all, of Robbie’s past violent crimes along with her and feel her worry as she considers how to raise a family with him. In this first section it really is the dynamic between the two of them that holds the film together. One thing the film does well is that it never asks us to forgive Robbie for the horrible things he has done in the past. It only wants us to give him a chance to try and reform his life. A chance he is now looking for. Nowhere is this better represented than in his relationship with Leonie and their new son. She loves him and desperately wants them all to to be happy be she has major doubts about whether Robbie can, or wants, to change his life. Through Harry and his new passion for whisky Robbie can find a way to make a new life for his family. He just needs a little help from his friends.
The rest of the cast are excellent in their respective roles but they play characters that aren’t fleshed out enough to really give them any lasting meaning. The fool, the get-anything-girl and the friend to the end would be a good way to describe the rest of the gang but it is a tad harsh. The truth is there is so much going on with Robbie and his road to redemption that any more characterisation on their part might get in the way of the overall story. This is Robbie’s tale and Paul Brannigan brings everything he has to make it feel like we can root for him even after all he has done.
Once the whisky caper goes north to the highlands the scenery is everything that you could hope for. Balblair distillery plays home to a major whisky auction that is key to the plot and the setting could not have been more perfect. I expect a huge amount of visitors will be looking to camp behind the distillery just as our band of whisky outlaws do. I might myself. The views are stunning and the warehouse seems open to attack (I’m assured it isn’t). It is possible that moving from the high brick buildings of Glasgow all the way up the to the hills of the highlands help make it seem more beautiful on a cinematic and emotional level. It does work though. With laughs all the way up the road (including a bus full of nuns) the heist itself has a merry, if a little tense, feel thanks to the traditional Scottish surroundings.
Overall ‘The Angels’ Share’ has enough fun and laughs and repentance to balance the grim violent nature that is the starting point for our protagonist. It’s Ken Loah lite- and that is no bad thing. For a director that has dealt with the big issues of the UK working class for the all of his career Ken Loach knows how to balance horrors with humour more than most directors out there.
There are also a few misnomers that any whisky geek will love to point out to their friends. Not often you get a chance to do that in the cinema!