Painful Deliveries

Now 83 years-old, Ken Loach returns with Sorry We Missed You, a typically angry film from a director who has spent his career pointing to social and political injustice. Once again scripted by Paul Laverty, his great collaborator these past twenty-three years, it feels like a companion to their 2016 Cannes-winner, I, Daniel Blake. While that dealt with the bureaucratic nightmare of the British welfare system, this concentrates on folk working on zero-hours contracts – the so-called gig economy.

Set in Newcastle, the focus is the Turner family – Ricky (Kris Hitchen) and Abbie (Debbie Honeywood), and their two kids, 11 year-old Lisa (Katie Proctor) and teenager Seb (Rhys Stone). Both Ricky and Abbie work in jobs that come with no protections for the worker; he works as a self-employed van driver for an Amazon-like parcel delivery company while she is as a care-worker for the aged, travelling from home to home on the lousy public transport system as she deals with curmudgeonly patients.

Chiefly, Loach and Laverty zero in on Ricky, as he’s forced to meet ever-more exacting targets. Overseen by the brutal warehouse head Maloney (Ross Brewster, excellent), such is the expectation on Ricky to hit his deadlines, he’s even forced to carry a plastic water bottle in his van to urinate in, rather than stopping for a bathroom break. If there’s no dignity in that, then this is just scratching the surface of a story that will increasingly leave you riddled with anxiety.

Although typically enlivened by traditional Loach-Laverty humour (witness the doorstep row Ricky has with a customer about football), it’s not perfect. The two youngsters playing the Turner kids show up their inexperience as performers, and certain plot strands – Seb’s relationship with a girl who leaves Newcastle, for example – wind up as dead ends. But when the camera trains its unforgiving eye on Ricky, you can’t help but feel horrified for his plight.

Naturally, Loach and Laverty have based his story on real-life experiences of drivers working in such horrendous conditions, but this is not necessarily a finger-point at Amazon specifically. It’s a film about debt and desperation, and the way blue-collar workers can no longer be assured of a job for life as corporations drain the last drops of blood and sweat from their bodies. The final shot, of Ricky, remains one of the most haunting and depressing moments in cinema this year.

Sorry We Missed You opens on 1 November. For more details, visit here.

James Mottram