Opening with the expertly cast Gary Maitland’s Albert drunkenly fooling around near an oncoming train, Loach’s pitch perfect Scottish film establishes the dark humour and rather endearing stupidity that lies ahead, while introducing us to the people whose journey we are about to join in the court docks.
After hearing what each of the gang is charged with, we are introduced to our main protagonist, Robbie (Paul Brannigan), who narrowly escapes a hefty custodial sentence due to the new leaf he has turned after learning he is to become a father and because of the very positive influence girlfriend Leonie (Siobhan Reilly) has had on his life.
Due to ongoing family feuds that now simply honour tradition, Robbie is beaten up in a hospital stairwell when merely trying to visit Leonie in labour, but after meeting community service volunteer, Harry (John Henshaw), he finds both friend and father figure. Tasked with looking after the reprobates, Harry develops more than just a paternal liking to the group, taking them to a distillery on his day off. And, while most of the lads are more interested in their tour guide’s shapely figure than the whisky around them, Robbie starts to realise he has quite the nose for it.
When Leonie hands Robbie an ultimatum regarding his future with his son after a shocking but very effective flashback encounter with a boy he attacked, Harry offers him a lifeline with a trip to a whisky meeting in Edinburgh – but he ends up with a little more company than he bargained for. With the dim Albert, often reckless Rhino (William Ruane) and kleptomaniac Mo (Jasmin Riggins) inviting themselves along, Robbie’s talent for blind tasting is truly proven and attracts the attention of serious whisky enthusiast, Thaddeus (Roger Allam).
With newfound faith that he is able to make something of himself away from Glasgow, Robbie takes Albert, Rhino and Mo with him on a whisky pilgrimage to the opening and consequent auction of the very rare Malt Mill. But of course, this is done in their own unique way, hitchhiking for part of the way on a bus full of nuns and wearing kilts so they don’t look like Neds in their usual tracksuits or like they’re going to court in suits. Although this, along with the use of The Proclaimers’ 500 Miles may seem to stereotype, Loach ensures it suits the silly and infectious nature of their travels.
It is to the central fours’ credit that the film works so well, delivering Paul Laverty’s screenplay with carefree ease and letting us feel part of their jokes while still feeling as if we are peeking in on private conversations. The magic and effortlessness between this group is what makes The Angels’ Share so entertaining, but Paul Brannigan’s vulnerable and affecting breakout performance as Robbie is the film’s true revelation, guaranteeing he is someone you incessantly root for.
The Angels’ Share may have its fair amount of emotion and heartbreak, but it’s primarily about the importance of family, friends and second chances. With no expected, elongated third act, everything is wrapped up in a perfect fashion to deliver a thoroughly entertaining and thought provoking film about getting out and doing something with your life, even when everyone and everything seems to be against you.
Distilling The Angels’ Share