Tuesday, June 04, 2013

The Angels' Share - Ken Loach

I watched The Angels' Share the other night and, while I did enjoy it, I found it a strangely unsettling film. I know that Ken Loach is one of our foremost filmmakers, and I know that he has a tendency to mix humour and violence, mostly to great effect. Kes, for example, is horrifyingly beautiful.

But the sudden lurches in register in this film are more than unsettling; they feel completely wrong.

I was reminded of a story by a fellow student in my MA class a few years. For 95% of the story it was a whimsical account of a camping holiday gone wrong. It was pretty funny. Then, right at the end, without any foreshadowing, it lurched straight into tragedy with the main character, a loveable idiot, being burned alive in his tent. It just didn't work. The reader had been set up for one thing and was delivered the precise opposite. I know that, by definition, shocks need to be shocking, but they still need to work within the context of the drama, too.

Mostly, The Angels' Share is a fairly light-hearted crime caper. You want the main characters to win through, even though they're committing a crime, because the register of the film is set that way. You identify with the characters, you see things from their POV, you are with them.

But, interspersed with this are scenes of considerable violence. I'm not a prude, and I wasn't upset about the violence. I just didn't think it fitted the story. The film has quite strong similarities to Whisky Galore, the marvellous Ealing comedy from the 1940s. Indeed, a number of reviews of the film make the same connection. But the violence in The Angels' Share doesn't fit that mood at all. It would be as if, in Whisky Galore, instead of locking Gordon Jackson in his room on the sabbath to stop him getting out and breaking the Lord's day of rest, his mother had smacked him in the face with a shovel and broken his nose. That just wouldn't have worked. And it doesn't in The Angels' Share either.