A review by Charles Sharpe
Sorry We Missed You : released November, 2019; Director, Ken Loach, Screenplay, Paul Laverty.
Last Sunday afternoon we visited The Barn Cinema in the idyllic setting of the Dartington Estate to watch Ken Loach’s moving and harrowing film Sorry We Missed You. Like his last film I, Daniel Blake action is set in Newcastle upon Tyne – a far cry from Dartington – and it concerns the struggles of the Turner family, Rickie and Abbie, the parents, Seth, a 17 year old son and Lisa Jane, a 12 year old daughter.
Both parents work with exploitative companies who demand they be self-employed. In having no choice but to work in this way Rickie and Abbie have no contracts which would offer them humane working rights. Constantly overworked they are at the mercy of these ‘gig economy’ companies and ever under the threat of loss of work or fines should they be unable to fulfil their almost impossible schedules. If they are ill, they must find a replacement to do their work and if they can’t they must pay the company a fine which is then used to finance a replacement.
In the opening scenes we discover that as a result of the uncertain economic climate brought about by the years of austerity, Rickie has found it difficult to find long term employment and has flitted from one short term job to another.
Determined to build a more secure future Rickie is persuaded by a friend to take on a franchise with a parcel delivery company. To do this he must have a van to deliver the parcels and is only able to finance the purchase of a van by asking his wife Abbie to sell her car which with some reluctance she agrees to do.
On first turning up at the delivery company’s depot, Rickie is told by the unbending and pitiless depot gangmaster, Gavin Maloney, how his time and work will be controlled by the schedule set by the black phone he gives to Rickie. Maloney makes it clear that the phone is a valuable and critical piece of equipment for it provides proof of the punctual delivery of packages.
Abbie Turner is a self-employed carer for a social care agency. Her duties involve providing support to the elderly and the disabled in their homes. She carries out her care in a sincere and conscientious way, but a consequence of the sale of her car is that she must travel by public transport to meet with her clients, (the latter a word she hates to use to describe the people she helps) which makes her working day even longer than it had been.
To make enough for family life to be financially feasible, Abbie and Chris work 14 hours a day for 6 days a week. This places great strain on what is not a perfect but a good enough loving family. Chris and Abbie, are increasingly unable to find sufficient time for their parenting duties, and cracks begin to appear in what up to now has been a strong family edifice. Son Seth, a friendly and sensitive young man with a passionate yet thoughtful interest in his street art, is suspended from school and Lisa Ann, a smart bright articulate girl begins to wet the bed. Rickie becomes angry and aggressive in reaction to these family frustrations and at a critical moment he strikes his son. A family taboo is broken.
The fallout from these developments define the denouement of the film as we witness the collapse of a once loving family. There is a heart wrenching crescendo in a scene set in a hospital where Rickie has gone after he is beaten up by thugs who have ransacked his van and smashed his black phone. While waiting for medical attention in A and E Rickie calls Maloney using Abbie’s phone. The gangmaster insists Rickie must pay £1000 for the black phone and that he must find someone to finish his work schedule for the day or he will be fined. On hearing this Abbie calls Maloney and in a verbal assault upon him, (which we as watchers all relish hearing), she tells him with a barrage of expletives how cruel and inhumane he is. On reflection Abbie is ashamed of her use of foul language. Another taboo has been broken. Rickie, injured, and in the thrall of the fear of financial disaster leaves the hospital and returns to work ignoring his wife and children’s desperate protests against this.
The potency of this and a number of previous Loach films is that they are about ordinary people struggling with the distress caused by government legislation or, as is the case of this film, the dearth of effective legislation to protect workers from exploitation.
Watching the film we encounter characters whom we recognise and know from our own day-to-day lives. Many of us will see ourselves in them. We sympathise and suffer with them.
Contrast Sorry We Missed You with the trailers of the other upcoming films we watched before the screening. These were about ‘tough’ Americans shooting and blowing up things to save the world from the Russians while another was about even more Americans saving the us from alien invasions. Films like these, as most commercial films seem to do, depict a violent, weapon toting world which has little to do with our every day experience. They are exercises in violent excess. Certainly there is violence in Sorry We Missed You but it is commensurate to a narrative with which we can associate.
This moving film has political implications but first and foremost it is a film about good people in a good family being destroyed by the ‘gig economy’.