Sorry We Missed You (2019)

Sorry We Missed you is a coruscating anti-capitalist manifesto from veteran politically engaged filmmaker Ken Loach and his longtime collaborator and screenwriter Paul Laverty.

Absolute Zero

by Alexa Dalby

Sorry We Missed You

CAUTION: Here be spoilers

Director Ken Loach’s award-winning I, Daniel Blake in 2016 castigated the inherent cruelty to ordinary people of the benefits system in Britain. Sorry We Missed You is a companion piece that spotlights another burning injustice – the misery that zero-hours contracts impose on workers. It’s generally accepted now that they’re a form of modern slavery that puts all the responsibility on the ‘self-employed’ (in name only) worker for no guaranteed work or wages, and no job security or paid leave time.

This film is also set in Newcastle and shows an ordinary family struggling to survive. Dad Ricky (Kris Hitchen), desperate for any kind of work to pay the mortgage, takes on an exploitative zero-hours contract as a parcel-delivery driver, working from a depot run by a harsh, unsympathetic supervisor (Ross Brewster).

To be able to work, Ricky even has to buy his own van, the company doesn’t supply one. His home-care assistant wife Abbie (Debbie Honeywood, outstanding in her first film role) – literally going the extra mile for them – has to sell the car she needs to drive round to her home visits to pay for the deposit on the van. This means she now has the extra difficulty of doing her rounds to her needy, elderly clients by bus – she’s also on a punishingly timetabled working day and she’s not paid for her travelling time.

Both Ricky and Abbie are hard-workers doing the best they can, but they’re only just about managing, stuck on an endless treadmill of long hours and low pay. With no time at home left over for parenting, just snatched calls on the mobile while they’re at work, 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 to take on a stressful grown-up role as she tries to paper over the cracks and prevent her family being destroyed.

Well-acted and well-observed, one painful realistic detail after another shows how easy it is for an ordinary, decent working family to slide into chaos, debt and poverty no matter how hard they try to keep their heads above water and despite working all the hours God sends. The harder they try, the worse things get. Loach blames longstanding issues for their plight as well as zero hours: the financial crash of 2008 and the collapse of Northern Rock building society, the housing crisis, the culture of bullying at work and at school… It’s grim, sad and terrible.

Sorry We Missed You (the wording of the slip that a hard-pressed delivery driver puts through the letterbox when there’s no one home) evokes a painful pity for the trapped family but perhaps not the same sense of one man’s tragedy and loss as with I, Daniel Blake.

Watching the family disintegrate is as heart-rending as in De Sica’s neo-realist Bicycle Thieves (1948). Sadly, Loach’s film shows how little life has improved since those austere postwar years – or after Britain’s recent ten years of Conservative-imposed austerity.

Sorry We Missed You is a coruscating anti-capitalist manifesto from a veteran politically engaged filmmaker. The performances and every detail are so realistic, it’s hard at times to remember you’re watching a drama and not a documentary.

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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