Film review: The Angels’ Share, Cannes Film Festival

Six years ago, Ken Loach won Cannes’ Palme d’Or with The Wind That Shakes the Barley – a film that stirred controversy at home with its sympathetic portrayal of the early IRA.

This year, he and regular collaborator, writer Paul Laverty, have returned to the competition with a very different kind of movie, in the Glasgow-set comedy The Angels’ Share.

A change of pace after 2009’s ferocious Route Irish, which tapped into the filmmakers’ anger over the Iraq war, the new film establishes its lighter register from the get-go, as we’re introduced to a collection of ne’er-do-wells being sentenced to community service for a range of (mostly) amusing misdemeanours at Glasgow Sheriff Court.

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The brightest of the bunch, Robbie, played by promising newcomer Paul Brannigan, has a history of violence, but is kept out of prison by the imminent birth of his son.

Loach and Laverty do not whitewash his thuggish past – which they detail in a harrowing flashback – but like his community service supervisor, Harry, clearly believe he deserves a break.

Not everyone does, though, and Robbie’s past threatens to destroy his future if he stays in Glasgow. Unable to get a job because of his past, he leads his new mate in the theft of a valuable Malt Mill whisky being auctioned in the Highlands. If society won’t help them, they will find a way of helping themselves.

The early scenes in Glasgow have the grit you expect from Loach. But after the action leaves the city, the characters and the movie leave the violence surrounding Robbie behind, and never return to it. The result is a feel-good fable that illustrates the power of the collective, and champions the underdog, and it provoked loud laughter and generous applause.

The Angels’ Share won’t create controversy or fire up audiences with its fury. It is, though, a warm-hearted and funny, if slight, addition to Loach’s CV. It is unlikely to win the Palme d’Or, but deserves to triumph at the box office when it opens at cinemas on 1 June.

Rating: ***