The Angels’ Share (UK/France)

2013 UK/France

SUNDAY 15th September 10.00 am
TUESDAY 17th September 8.00 pm
RUNNING TIME 106 minutes


When petty crim and troublemaker Robbie (Paul Brannigan) sneaks into the Glasgow maternity hospital to visit his young girlfriend Leonie (Siobhan Reilly) and hold his newborn son Luke for the first time, he is overwhelmed. He swears that Luke will not lead the same stricken life he has led. On community service for a bashing, Robbie meets Rhino (William Ruane), Albert (Gary Maitland) and Mo (Jasmine Riggins) for whom, like him, work is little more than a distant dream. But when community worker Harry (John Henshaw) takes him under his wing – and to a malt whiskey tasting – Robbie discovers he has a well developed nose. This in turn leads to a further interest in whiskey, which in turn leads to meeting a whiskey collector (Roger Hallam) and an opportunity for Robbie to really change his life.


The spirit and the flesh are willing in this mischievous, bittersweet comedy in which single malt whisky, an ex crim and second chances come together in an interesting blend. With a screenplay by long-time collaborator Paul Laverty, Ken Loach makes the unlikely juxtaposition of an unemployed petty crim from the wrong end of the tracks in Glasgow with the elite world of single malts. I love the audacity of the concept and enjoyed the film, although I have to admit, I missed some of the dialogue, due to the broad and often indecipherable Scottish dialect. A film’s heart, however, needs no translation and The Angels’ Share has plenty on display.

It’s a motley group that the court brings together for community service for various offences. High on cocaine when he committed brutal, aggravated assault, as Robbie (Paul Brannigan) cradles his baby boy Luke in his arms, he is high in a different way, making a vow to turn over a new leaf. The sympathetic local community officer Harry (John Henshaw) opens a special bottle that he has been saving for a special occasion to toast the baby’s birth with Robbie, his passion for the golden drop enthusing Robbie and the group.

It is during a tour of the whisky distillery with Harry that the group hears about the elusive 2% of spirit called the Angels’ Share that evaporates as part of the maturation of the whisky as it ferments to its exquisite peak.

With everything conspiring against Robbie, unable to get a job or escape from the clutches of his past life, the opportunity that presents itself involving the auction of a special cask of single malt whisky in a distillery in Glasgow is beyond daring. How Robbie’s natural palate is noticed by wine collector, Thaddeus (Roger Allam) is nicely played, allowing the stage to be set for the events that are about to take place.

The way the ex-crims, dressed in traditional kilts, make themselves accepted in the elite company of the auction is very funny and we are on the edge of our seats as the exposition evolves. The twists and turns play out with good humour and there’s a perfectly judged sentimental moment involving Harry and a gift he will not forget. I wished there was a Scotsman sitting next to me, who could translate the dialogue when the Scottish brogue was beyond me.



“Ken Loach does hope” could be the headline a Fleet Street sub might slap on a review of The Angels’ Share, in which a young Scot accidentally finds salvation and a way out of his trapped life of crime and misery. Except of course it’s more complicated than that.

The film draws us in – despite the horrendously heavy brogue that camouflages most of the dialogue – with its dramatic set up. Young Robbie (Paul Brannigan) is a slight chap but he’s evidently quite capable of violence, especially when “coked to the eyeballs” as someone puts it. Nor is Robbie an exception as we are told in a series of vignettes under the opening credits with a parade of sinners through the court.

Robbie is caught in a serial vendetta that has come down through a couple of generations and he’s also directionless. The circumstances are clearly set for him to become another terrible statistic and, with the determination born of new fatherhood, not to mention girlfriend Leonie (Siobhan Reilly) putting her foot down that enough is enough, Robbie vows to change his ways. Evidently the universe is listening because he gets an opportunity to do that through coincidences that could mar a film in lesser hands.

The first of these is meeting a decent bloke like community worker Harry (John Henshaw) while working off the community service hours, after barely escaping a custodial sentence. Harry is not only a good role model, he also has an interest in malt whiskey that is more than just drinking it. This leads to Robbie’s ultimate escape, but not before he overcomes a few challenges.

In one scene Robbie has to confront a young man who is the victim of one of his violent bouts, along with the young man’s family; although clearly manipulative, the scene works as another motivator for Robbie to make a conscious change. This point is probably the film’s central message, but how he raises the money to make a new start is – all too realistically – illegal.

The principal cast is everything we expect from a Loach film, textured and complex and rough hewn working class, and Roger Hallam is great as whiskey collector Thaddeus. By the way, the whiskey thing isn’t just a throw away: Robbie and his friends get to visit a brewery and learn the basics of whiskey making, and later there is a tense whiskey auction which plays a crucial role in the plot. As for the title, it’s the traditional reference to the 2% of whiskey that simply evaporates during the process.

Paul Levarty’s expletive laden screenplay (not counting the dialogue I can’t make out) sets out a tough but engaging redemption story, daubed with humour and hope.