CANNES 2019: Sorry We Missed You (2019)

Sorry We Missed You is another powerful, moving and important film from Ken Loach and his longtime collaborator and screenwriter Paul Laverty.

Absolute Zero

by Alexa Dalby

Sorry We Missed You

CAUTION: Here be spoilers

Loach’s I, Daniel Blake spotlit the inherent cruelty of the benefits system in Britain. Sorry We Missed You is a companion piece that spotlights another burning injustice in the nation – the misery that zero-hours contracts impose on workers. They’re a form of modern slavery that puts all the responsibility on the ‘self-employed’ (in name only) worker for no guaranteed payment and able to be fired at a day’s notice.

Like Loach’s previous film, it’s set in Newcastle. The filmmakers saw a lot of poverty there and they used as a microcosm for Britain. It shows an ordinary family struggling to survive. Dad Ricky (Kris Hitchen) is forced to take an exploitative zero-hours contract as a van driver, working from a depot run by an incredibly hard, unsympathetic supervisor (Ross Brewster). He has to buy his own van. To do this, his care assistant wife Abbie (Debbie Honeywood, outstanding in her first film role) has to sell the car she needs to drive round to her home visits to pay for the deposit on it, so that she now has the extra difficulty of doing her rounds by bus.

Both Ricky and Abbie are hard-working but they’re only just about managing, stuck on an endless treadmill of long hours and low pay. With no time left over for parenting the family starts to fall apart: their rebellious teenage son (Rhys Stone) gets into trouble with the police, and their young daughter (Katie Proctor) is forced into a stressful grown-up role as she tries to paper over the cracks destroying the family.

Well-acted and well-observed, painful realistic detail after painful realistic detail shows how easy it is for an ordinary, decent family to slide into chaos, debt and poverty no matter how hard they try and despite working all the hours God sends. It’s grim, sad and terrible.

Other issues Loach throws into the mix are the miners’ strike, the collapse of Northern Rock building society, the housing crisis, the financial crash of 2008, bullying at work and at school, the erosion of workers’ rights, inequality…

Watching the family disintegrate is as heart-rending as De Sica’s Bicycle Thieves and shows how little life has improved in the years since postwar austerity. It’s a corruscating anti-capitalist manifesto from a veteran politically engaged filmmaker. It’s hard at times to remember you’re watching a film and not a documentary. Although this excoriating view of the state of Britain today played to appreciative acclaim at the Cannes Film Festival in May to critics from all over the world, sadly it won no awards.

Sorry We Missed You premiered in Competition at the Cannes Film Festival 2019 and is released on 1 November 2019 in the UK.

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