Of course, all of Ken Loach’s films are deeply political, but with 2016’s I Daniel Blake, it felt like he was taking the fight directly to the current establishment in a more openly aggressive way than before. It’s a technique he’s brought with him into his follow up, Sorry We Missed You, which goes after the evils of the gig economy and big delivery companies in the way I Daniel Blake tackled the Tories and the barbaric DWP. It’s a sad and frequently painful film, but also funnier and more compelling than its predecessor, and one can only hope that it has a similarly galvanising effect.
We first meet Ricky Turner (Kris Hitchen) as he signs up with the parcel delivery firm that will go on to devour his life. Nasty boss Maloney (Ross Brewster) explains that Ricky has all the responsibilities, and more, of a regular employee, but none of the benefits or security. Every day off costs Ricky at least £100 and the company, whilst offering nothing, retains the right to issue Ricky with financial penalties for any mistakes. In order to afford his delivery van, Ricky has to sell his wife Abbey’s (Debbie Honeywood) car, which in turn makes her working day as a carer that much longer.
Sorry We Missed You has the walls closing in on its characters every step of the way, and it is a profoundly stressful watch. Every problem and indignity that Rickey and Abbey have to suffer only guarantees more problems and indignities down the line. Loach and writer Paul Laverty’s fury at this system – and the baffling fact that it is perfectly legal – is palpable and contagious, but Laverty’s writing never settles for just abstract political and statistical analysis. Ricky and his family are fully drawn characters, and the Ricky’s job impacts on them in unique, specific ways.
Not all of these impacts are as effective as others – there are too many rows around the dinner table with delinquent 16 year old son Seb (Rhys Stone), and a sadistic attack by opportunist thieves rings false – but for the most part, Sorry We Missed You exerts a heavy emotional pull. Loach coaxes phenomenal performances from his largely non-professional cast, and the Turners always feel like a real family. Moments of levity and compassion punctuate the misery without undercutting it, and Abbey’s scenes are particularly affecting as she helps the elderly and disabled with her time and kindness even as things fall apart around her.
Though Maloney is a villainous figure, the true culprits never make an appearance. Always shielded by unfathomable wealth and casual cruelty, the architects of the system under which the Turners are crushed are invisible. While it might be cathartic to have Ricky fight back directly against them, it would ring utterly false. No one with power offers working people in the gig economy a way out, and the sheer degrading exhaustion of that life flows off the screen in all its infuriating injustice. An affecting and thoroughly necessary indictment of modern Britain and its subservience to unfeeling capital.