Survey the list of award front-runners and, ultimately, winners and you’ll find they’re dominated by serious films with weighty subject matters. It takes a lot for a comedy to break through and be taken seriously. There’s a kind of snobbery to that – and also it implies a misunderstanding that there’s less ‘art’ to making something that’s genuinely funny. There isn’t. It’s just as hard to make people cry happy tears as it is sad tears.
British director Ken Loach is best known for his serious dramas – politically charged films, laced with gritty social realism. That’s to do him a disservice, though. As with his latest offering, he’s equally adept at light comedy as he is dark drama. The Angels’ Share tells the story of a group of young Scottish adults serving community payback for crimes they’re found guilty of. One of them finds he has a hitherto unexpected gift for detecting and describing the subtle flavours of a fine single malt whisky. So their journey takes them into the world of whisky – and ultimately to a money-making plot of stealing, deception and intrigue.
It’s a lovely film. The comedy is light, pitch-perfect. The characters beautifully drawn. The tone is just as much that of social-realism as it is in Loach’s more ‘serious’ films – but here the direction is different. That’s not to say there isn’t a serious side – the meeting between criminal and crime-victim to talk about the consequences of the crime committed is moving and memorable; there’s an undercurrent of lurking vengeful violence which repeatedly threatens to explode into the foreground. Gentle comedy still has a dark side, and the real world of the urban poverty the characters are trying to escape is still there.
The film ends with escape to a promised better life for one character and the offer of escape for others. The viewer’s left with a smile, and the memory of many laughs. And also a tantalising question – escape has been offered but will it be taken? The implication is maybe not. The edge of uncertainty is the film’s final gift; how many of us can really say we make good choices every time, even when the clear opportunity is presented? The Angels’ Share is a comedy, but nonetheless real for it.
I rated this movie 4/5 on rottentomatoes.com and 8/10 on imdb.com