by NEVIL GIBSON
Kenneth Loach is one of the few British directors whose name in the credits means more than his cast.
He first attracted attention with a TV play, Cathy Come Home, which raised the issue of homelessness, followed by Poor Cow, an adaptation of a “kitchen sink” novel.
His breakthrough came with Kes (1969), about a working class boy who finds a meaning in life through training a falcon. This began a long list of films with familiar themes and strong, not to say strident, messages.
Usually something gives if a tub is thumped too often — the filmmaker drops the heavy preaching or faces the risk of running out of money.
Loach, now 76, has avoided both fates by careful selection of high-profile historical themes — such as the Irish and Spanish civil wars in The Wind That Shakes the Barley and Land and Freedom, respectively — and topical social ones.
His modus operandi put him above those of his peers. He likes to use a mix of amateur and experienced actors, with the former usually in the lead roles of the contemporary dramas, while keeping the heavy hitters for period pieces.
Over his 40-year career, Loach’s approach has paid off with a stack of awards from the world’s top festivals. Most recently, he won the Jury Prize at Cannes with The Angels’ Share (Vendetta), by far his most accessible film in years.
Like Ae Fond Kiss, it is set in Glasgow and follows a group of anti-social would-be criminals, who are diverted into a term of periodic detention as payback to the community.
The most prominent among them is a young new father, Robbie (Paul Brannigan), whose outbreaks of anger have got him into trouble with a local gang — as well as facing a serious assault charge.
He forms a close relationship with the PD group’s well-intentioned and whisky-loving leader (John Henshaw).
The latter wants to give Robbie a chance to improve his life, after discovering he has a knack for whisky tasting. With the gang Robbie has crossed never far behind him, he tries to escape the dystopian life in Glasgow’s “estates”.
The plot moves up a gear when the ill-assorted group, reputedly all played by true-to-life versions of themselves, decide on a heist to steal some premium whisky and keep the proceeds. The actual heist is done with little more than ingenuity, due to a lack of sophisticated equipment, and a high dose of self-belief. We are already sympathetic to them and so the “crime” — in which there are no real victims — is easily accepted.
Loach doesn’t desert the bitter social comment of his other films, most of which depict the grinding effects of a violence-ridden underclass from which few are able to escape with decent jobs.
Surprisingly, given his social concerns, Loach shows adept skill at depicting the culture and commerce of whisky making. The title refers to the distiller’s term for the whisky that is lost through evaporation as it matures in the barrel. N.G.
Restricted to 16 and over; 101 minutes.
by NEVIL GIBSON