Director: Ken Loach
Writer: Paul Laverty
Starring: Kris Hitchen, Debbie Honeywood, Rhys Stone
Ricky (Hitchen) and his family have been fighting an uphill struggle against debt since the 2008 financial crash, but Ricky sees what he believes as a chance to restore some pride and raise the money to buy a house by working as his own boss as a self-employed delivery driver. However, the long hours, unforgiving workload and brutal rules of his new job, combined with each individual member of the family having their own issues, pushes the entire family unit to breaking point.
After their scathing dissection of the current British welfare system in I, Daniel Blake, Ken Loach and Paul Laverty have now turned their attention and unflinching, scathing eye to zero-hour contracts and the gig economy. I think it is fair to say that anyone who is familiar with Ken Loach as an individual or any of his films will have a fair idea of what to expect from Sorry We Missed You; it is an uncompromising and often harrowing film with a clear singular view that unashamedly wears it heart on its sleeve and it is told with undoubted and genuine passion.
Anyone who is familiar with Ken Loach the man will also know that he is certainly not shy when it comes to stating his political views, and though there is of course nothing wrong with that, it does inevitably lead to his films feeling like they exist solely as springboard for his own fierce political views. It is of course best to avoid discussing politics and just focussing on whether Sorry We Missed You works as a film, but there is always the risk that Loach’s singular and passionate political views can actually serve to undermine not only the main messages and themes of a film he makes, but also undermine the film being effective solely as a piece of narrative drama.
This was one of my main criticisms of I, Daniel Blake; that too was a film made with undeniable passion and integrity, and no one can deny that a huge element of the story was based on real life examples. However, Loach and Laverty’s constant tendency to make everything as bad as possible, with the worst possible thing that can happen to a character always seeming to happen and bad characters being as bad as possible just produced a film that was both narratively flawed, with the constant contrivances being too much. This did lead to the film often feeling patronising and preachy, almost at times seemingly accusing the audience of total ignorance, and when a film does do this to an honest, paying audience it can certainly just alienate them instead of getting them on its side.
Though it may well be based on off the record real-life anecdotes, Sorry we Missed You most certainly contains some the of the same narrative problems as I, Daniel Blake. Once again the viewer is presented with a narrative where way too often the worst possible thing that can happen to the film’s main characters does constantly happen, with some of the film’s more antagonistic characters being as nasty and antagonistic as possible, leading to them feeling like lazy caricatures instead of actual real, everyday life people. The main example being Ricky’s boss Maloney (played very well by Ross Brewster) who at one point proudly states that he is the patron saint of bastards and that there should be a statue of him outside the parcel depot with a plaque stating that – this whole scene is actually quite cringy, and not in a good or effective way. Meanwhile some of the film’s subplots that solely just pile on the sense of doom and misery, such as a subplot involving the couple’s wayward teenage son, just feel like TV melodrama taken straight from an episode of EastEnders that solely exist just to pad the running time out.
Of course, Sorry we Missed You is a drama and so there will always be an element of dramatic license, but when a film tries to present social realism it does tread a fine line, and this fine line is often crossed too far with moments that just feel too forced. The undeniable fact is that a vast majority of people that do watch Sorry We Missed You will not learn anything new from it, and therefore Ken Loach should at least show a little respect and not patronise the viewer.
Despite its storytelling flaws, Sorry We Missed You is still a film with some genuinely moving moments and it does give us characters to care about (only people with a heart made of stone would not feel any kind of element of both sympathy and empathy for them). The decision to use lesser-known actors is certainly an effective one, and it means that Kris Hitchen and Debbie Honeywood give very raw and engaging performances as two characters that the audience can genuinely relate to, while excellent support is also provided by Rhys Stone and Katie Proctor as their respective son and daughter.
This may well perhaps undermine the main point of the film, but for me what made the main characters so engaging was the more universal aspects of their situation. They were both just trying to do the right thing and provide for their family, and being able to fulfil what should be the more basic aspects of their roles becomes increasing difficult. However, this is the case for many families and individuals, and not necessarily just those who are on zero hours contracts and work in the gig economy. This is especially in the case of Ricky, as he is trying to be a role model to his wayward son, but at the same time persuade his son to not choose the path that he has. Intentionally or not, there are aspects of Sorry We Missed You that provide a very moving examination of damaged masculinity and a man trying to fulfil what society expects a father and husband to be, and society will not let him even fulfil what should be quite basic things.
As the narrative develops, it is certainly no spoiler to say there are far more negative plot developments than positive (there are a few amusing moments of light relief given by Laverty’s naturalistic dialogue). This does lead to the film being a little too predictable, and that may be part of the point that Loach and Laverty are trying to make, but for me the constant worst case scenario developments just feel like the film lectures what is likely to be a well-educated audience, with the stodgy plotting feeling more like middle of the road melodrama than an angry and impassioned call to arms. The film’s ending is also far more tonally appropriate than the lazy and carless ending to I, Daniel Blake. However, as much as Sorry We Missed You has enough obvious passion and relatable characters to be engaging enough when being watched and certainly gives us characters that we cannot help but genuinely care about, it does not tell the viewer anything they do not know already, making it ultimately quite forgettable and so unlikely to truly serve the purpose its director and writer may well have intended.
A film made with undeniable passion and integrity; Sorry we Missed You certainly has relatable characters worth caring about and makes its political standpoint very clear, but its narrative flaws and often misguided tone do frequently undermine this.