It’s fair to say that Ken Loach is one of the most visceral and furious directors working today. After initially retiring from filmmaking in 2014, Loach has reinvigorated himself due to the cruelty of the current Conservative government and its austerity regime. Following on from I, Daniel Blake, which tackled the benefits system, Sorry We Missed You looks at the gig economy and the damage that it does to people under the guise of creating self employment. Whilst it doesn’t work as well on a whole as I, Daniel Blake, this is still a powerful indictment of the gig economy.
The film focuses on the Turner family, who have faced hard financial times following the collapse of Northern Rock in the wake of the 2008 Financial Crisis. With the dad, Ricky, working various jobs during the past few years, he ends up joining a parcel delivery service as a driver, it being sold to him as enabling him to create his own business. It does require a £1000 deposit for a van, which Ricky gets by selling the family car, which impacts his wife Abby, who works as a carer and has to use public transport to get around Newcastle for her work. As the film goes on, we see the impact that the hectic work schedules of Ricky and Abby have on the family, particularly on the relationship with their children Seb and Lisa Jane. Now the film exposes the lies at the heart of the gig economy. Whilst it is claimed that people are given the opportunity to create their own employment, those in the system are trapped in there, pushed into ever increasing debt and punished for minor infractions and needing to take personal time off due to family issues and illness. Loach and Laverty show the cruelty inherent in the system and how that cruelty is disguised through PR buzzwords into something more palatable. The film also does a good job at showing the issues carers face, with a system that overexerts carers, making them do more work in a shorter amount of time and limiting the ability to actually care for people, focusing on targets more than people, driven by increased privatisation of the NHS. Loach also makes a more general comment about long wait times at the NHS later in the film, but it doesn’t land the way Loach intended it to as feels like a bit too much. That’s really where some of the small problems in the film come from. Loach clearly has a lot to say and the run time of the film means Loach and Laverty aren’t able to go into as much detail as they want to. It doesn’t rob the film of its power, but it prevents it from being the cohesive whole that I, Daniel Blake was.
The performances meanwhile add to the power of the film. Kris Hitchens as Ricky Turner is excellent, showing the aspiration of Turner and how he believes working as the driver will help his family get out of debt and recover from the 2008 recession. But as the film goes on and the pressure of the job gets to him, Hitchens shows Ricky’s descent into a darker element of his life and an increased level of anger, and showing how Ricky feels trapped in his life. As Abby, Debbie Honeywood is excellent, showing her caring nature and how this nature is pushed to its limits by the target system put in place for her to follow. She also shows the difficulties being a carer brings, such as the smells she has to deal with and the severe issues the people she cares for have, which eats into the time she spends with them and further shows the cruelty of the targets. Katie Proctor as Lisa Jane provides some levity in the film, with a scene where she joins Ricky on his deliveries being a rare moment of happiness in the film (another one being when the family gets an Indian takeaway and Ricky underestimates the heat of a vindaloo), whilst also having a heartbreaking scene at the end of the film. As Seb, Rhys Stone is effective as well, showing his own anger with society and how his artistic tendencies, with graffiti art, are frowned upon through the general depiction of graffiti, showing that Seb is a talented artist whose work will never be accepted (there’s also an interesting thing I noticed with some Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee artwork in Seb’s bedroom, although whether it has any significance would depend on Loach’s views on gaming, which I don’t know). Through Seb we also see the damage Ricky and Abby’s work schedules have on the family, making it so they aren’t able to spend enough time with their children to really understand their problems and provide an outlet for them, highlighting the need for a support system and the damage that can be done when that support system isn’t available.
Overall, Sorry We Missed You is another brutal look at the horrors of the economic world from Ken Loach and Paul Laverty. The only reason it doesn’t work quite as well as I, Daniel Blake is because that film had a more focused narrative whilst this sets its sights on more and bigger targets. This doesn’t stop the film from having a raw power to it, showing how people can get trapped in the economy, being forced deeper into debt and financial hardship for the promise of financial stability that will never come. The anger that Loach and Laverty have for the financial system of the gig economy is palpable throughout and creates a vital film for the times, and one that sadly will not lose its relevance in the foreseeable future.
My Rating: 4.5/5