The work of Ken Loach, of course, often comes with a sense of righteous anger, keen to highlight a pocket of ‘Broken Britain’ that takes a look at the everyday people whose lives are affected by the systems put in place to govern them. With Sorry We Missed You, Loach shines a light on the type of job schemes that offer zero-hour contracts, presenting the illusion that you’re your own boss, all the while coming under the orders and restrictions (and fines) of a larger organisation.
The film follows married couple Ricky (Kris Hitchen) and Abby Turner (Debbie Honeywood). While Abby works as a care-worker, going to patients door to door, Ricky is about to begin work as a delivery driver and pushes for Abby to sell her car in order for him to buy his own van. The initial promise of the flexibility of his work soon shows itself to be a lie, as problems at home are strained by Ricky’s demanding hours, and Abby’s highly responsible work, which only pays per visit and becomes strained now that she has to take buses to her clients. Just how far can this family be pushed until it reaches a breaking point?
As was the case with Loach’s previous film, I, Daniel Blake (and, frankly, any Loach film) there’s an authenticity to the world these characters populate as it goes about its business to reveal the lies at the foundation of the kind of ‘flexible’ zero hour, no contract life that many of the working class have to take on in order to provide for their families. In the case of the Turners, a number of factors have forced them into the gig economy, with the crash of Northern Rock throwing them off of the housing ladder being the most prevailing contributing factor.
All this forces Ricky and Abby into incredibly demanding working conditions, with Ricky’s work dictated by a larger cooperation pushing for high results, while Abby’s already incredibly difficult work of being a carer becoming exacerbated by the loss of her car. Couple this with a teenage son (Rhys Stone) acting out and an anxious young daughter (Katie Proctor), there’s a sense that this is a family unit heading for destruction.
Loach and Paul Laverty as a filmmaker/writer duo always present something that feels deeply researched and designed with the noblest of intentions to present a struggle that many families face in the UK to a wider audience, in the hope that some action may be inspired to rectify the situation. As a result, there is a sense that they have heard so many stories and want to put as many of those as they can into the plight of the Turners that the drama can occasionally feel contrived. That can feel at odds with the very realistic approach to filmmaking and the performances, but it does allow a sense of voice that’s filled with passion and fury.
For some that didactic voice may feel too at odds with the realistic settings and performances that are put down, particularly as it lays on the downbeat events that come to plague this family and send them further down a spiral of desperation. It can also feel a little strange when some of the performances, with the actors largely being unknowns, do on occasion feel a little too rehearsed and don’t quite sell the authenticity that the film is obviously trying to get you to buy.
All this would be more grating if it wasn’t for the impact generated from the interplay across the family at the film’s heart, with the performances from both the parents and the children chiming with a sense of authenticity and a lightness of touch that makes for a more devastating experience come the final third. There’s a real grace to the quieter moments between the family, be it Proctor’s Lisa Jane going to work with her Dad, or sharing a moment with her brother Seb when both Mum and Dad are still at work. It all makes for an altogether more rounded experience, which as a result makes it all the more heart-breaking.
Those who are already very much on side with Loach and his politics will undoubtedly find this another devastating call to arms regarding an underrepresented truth of British life. Others who are not quite so convinced will find it easy to pick holes in Loach and Laverty’s message, but to them, I say you’re missing the point. There may be a lot of narrative weight thrown into the story of this one family, but in showing the different shades in which many families are affected by gig economy in this distilled form goes a long way to demonstrating just what the issues are and why something needs to be addressed. Sorry We Missed You is flawed yet vital, and we would all do well to listen to what Mr. Loach has to say.
Dir: Ken Loach
Scr: Paul Laverty
Cast: Kris Hitchen, Debbie Honeywood, Rhys Stone, Katie Proctor
Prd: Rebecca O’Brien
DOP: Robbie Ryan
Music: George Fenton
Run time: 100 mins
Sorry We Missed You will be released in UK cinemas from November 1st.