Narrowly avoiding jail, new dad Robbie vows to turn over a new leaf. A visit to a whisky distillery inspires him and his mates to seek a way out of their hopeless lives.
The Angel’s Share is a kind of Whisky Galore! on dry land, a gentle heist caper full of director Ken Loach’s trademark social realism. There are a few hearty chuckles in the gallows humour of a reformed thug embattled by generational violence, as he tries to put sufficient daylight between his future and his dark past to enable his newborn son a fresh start in life.
"There are a few hearty chuckles in the gallows humour."
Opening scenes introduce us to an unremarkable day in the Glasgow Sheriff’s Court; the roll is full of matters relating to young men doing stupid things for no particular reason, with faculties more often than not impaired by fortified wine. They involve acts of mischief such as playing 'chicken’ with trains and stealing parrots from pet shops. The matters get progressively weightier and include an assault by Robbie (newcomer Paul Brannigan), a repeat offender actively upholding in a longstanding family feud. The Sheriff sentences Robbie to community service, with a stern warning that it’s his final chance at rehabilitation. Next time, it’ll be Porridge.
Determined to do the right thing by his pregnant girlfriend, Leonie (Siobhan Reilly), Robbie throws himself into his community service, and vows to stay on the straight and narrow. Suffice it to say, his old foes are reluctant to let him off the hook, and they lie in wait to settle older scores. Robbie’s problems also lie closer to home; Leonie’s father offers a congratulatory head-butt when he spies the new father in the maternity ward, to make plain his unwillingness to welcome a "scumbag loser" into the family.
Brannigan himself grew up in and around Glasgow gangs, and used his first-hand experience of the affects of drugs and alcohol to work as a community liaison in a police initiative to reduce violence. He was helping screenwriter Paul Laverty with research into youth groups, when the writer suggested him to Loach during casting. Brannigan’s wary instincts serve him well in the role of the rough diamond Robbie.
Loach spares no detail in disclosing the Very Bad Things Robbie has done. A tense restorative conference details the seriousness of a brutal assault Robbie committed three years prior. With a calm veneer to furious grief, a mother recounts the physical and emotional impact of Robbie’s actions upon her son and wider family. Robbie’s remorse is little comfort to them of course, but the experience solders his will to steer clear of further violence.
On the news that Leonie has delivered a boy, Robbie’s kindly supervisor, whisky aficionado Harry (John Henshaw), offers Robbie a wee celebratory nip, and schools him on the art of savouring the drop. Unbeknownst to the pair of them, Robbie possesses acute olfactory senses, which makes him a natural for the scientific and empirical appreciation of fine whisky.
The rarified world inhabited by companions of the Quaich is where "the poetic and the bullshit rub together", in Laverty’s estimation, as the myths and legend intertwine in a heady blend of malted barley.
The so-called 'Angel’s share’ is the two percent of a barrel’s contents lost to evaporation each year – spirits taken by the spirits, or grog for the Gods, if you please. This explanation of liquid loss intrigues Robbie no end, and his refined 'nose’ sniffs out an opportunity when a rare barrel of whisky comes up for auction. It’s a drink of the sort to make brawny men swoon – and make rich brawny men bid deliriously for the privilege of owning it. Robbie’s no angel - that much we know - but he wants his share. He devises a crafty plan to get his and his roustabout mates a payday, as a means to a greater end.
It’s all good, harmless, dishonest fun, a fable of how a kindly influence and a canny sense of mischief can help to break the vicious cycle of generational unemployment, violence and acrimony.
Catch 'The Angels' Share' on SBS Viceland, Friday 27 September at 12:55am and then at SBS On Demand: