Sorry We Missed You

We had to steel ourselves to see this. Ken Loach’s last film, I Daniel Blake, shares the same scriptwriter, Paul Laverty, and left me glum for days. Both deal with life at the rough end of Britain, where people don’t have mortgages, are either unemployed or work zero hours contracts in our gig economy and struggle to survive. 

At the heart of both films are decent people trying to do their best. Ricky (Kris Hitchen) has been struggling to work since the implosion of Northern Rock and all its consequences in 2008 when he lost his building work. He is seduced by the lure of being his own boss by the odious Maloney (Ross Brewster), who sells him a franchise to a parcel delivery route for one of the big courier firms; in fact this film is loosely based on a DPD courier who died in 2018 after missing hospital appointments due to having to pay off fines imposed by the firm. 

Alarm bells ring when Maloney gives Ricky a computer, sinisterly nicknamed the ‘gun’, and warns him that the ‘precisors’  –  the booked delivery slots – simply cannot be missed, that sanctions or fines will be imposed and that the cost of losing the ‘gun’ will be £1000. Naturally he will need a van, which he can rent at £65 per day off the company or buy his own. So the trap is set for what follows – and we can see it all coming.

Ricky’s wife Abbie (Debbie Honeywood) is a carer who drives from client to client to make lunch, change nappies and tuck up the confused, elderly and disabled – to whom she shows empathy and compassion and spends far longer than her allocated slots. They have two children, a boy Seb (Rhys Stone), who is bunking off school and is part of a graffiti gang, and a clever daughter, Liza Jane (Katie Proctor). They are classic latchkey kids who never see their parents due to the pressure of scraping enough together to put food on the table and pay rent on their dilapidated home. 

Ricky’s intentions are good – he is determined to get enough money together so they can buy a house, as they were on the brink of doing when he lost his job in 2008. With a sickening sense of dread, we catch our breath as he persuades Abbie to sell her car, forcing her to go by bus to do her rounds. With their 14-hour days they become invisible parents giving rise to real family tensions especially when the inevitable happens and Seb gets into trouble. 

There is not much humour in this film (aside from some encounters on the delivery route), but there are some brighter moments in the gathering gloom. At the heart of these is the love that binds this family together against all the odds. Ricky has a close bond with Liza Jane, and there are some heartwarming scenes when he takes her out on a day’s delivery, simple things like sharing a sandwich and running up and down stairs in miserable tower blocks to meet the precisor deadlines. Abbie sums it up when she says, ‘This is my family, and I’m telling you now, nobody messes with my family’.

Then there is the love and affection that Abbie shows to some of her truly difficult charges. One cankerous old bird, who has swept her dinner off the table on a previous visit, is transformed by brushing Abbie’s hair and gently crooning an old music hall number. In developing Abbie’s relationships with the trapped and helpless people on her rounds, Loach is intentionally drawing our attention to the failure of the welfare state.

Indeed the film is a lament on rotten Britain. Building on the desperate story of I, Daniel Blake, Loach goes one step further in his evisceration of the failure of successive years of Tory policy which have ignored – indeed have punished – the poor by slashing benefits and supporting zero hours and the gig economy. If you need any convincing NOT to vote Tory then this timely film is a must-see; for everyone else it is simply heartbreaking.

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