Film Editor Amy O’Neill explores Ken Loach’s latest heart-wrenching feature
Sorry We Missed You opens with a poignant summary of the gig economy, setting up the misconceptions about the kinds of work it provides before going on to shatter the lies that people are told to lure them into these jobs. This is a story that really packs a punch. ‘You’ll be the master of your own destiny, Ricky’, ‘It’s your own choice’, the main character’s new boss iterates, outlining the perks of his new job. Paul Laverty’s incredibly to-the-point dialogue does not hold back, and Ken Loach’s signature realise directorial style is incredibly effective at showing that this is a film about real life, about issues that affect real people.
Of course, the film is a work of fiction. The characters do not exist, their stories are made up — but they are entirely conceivable. A father working fourteen hours a day, six days a week on a zero-hours contract; a mother working a thankless care job, where she looks after the elderly who have been forgotten by their families and by the government; a son who is acting out at school and an eleven year old daughter who witnesses it all, trying desperately to make her family the way it used to be. Sorry We Missed You forms a truly effective portrait of a British family in 2019, battling austerity and the gig economy, and all the struggles that have followed the 2008 recession.
The performances are understated, bubbling under the surface with anger, stress and hopelessness. Kris Hitchen as dad Ricky Turner is absolutely heart-breaking, his stress worn on his face throughout the film in a way that subtly and increasingly betrays the impact of his working conditions. Debbie Honeywood as Ricky’s wife Abby is caring and concerned, a mother doing the best for her children over the phone on the bus journeys between clients at her job. The children too, are brilliant: Rhys Stone plays an attitude-ridden, grumbling teenage son Seb, rallying against his parents, and Katie Proctor is a quiet and well-meaning younger daughter, Lisa Jane. All of the performances come together in a crescendo of tension that has been slowly burning throughout the two hours, in a frustratingly unsatisfying ending that really hammers home the futility of the family’s situation. It’s not all doom and gloom though — the love that the family often shows for each other is such an important part of their dynamic and a driving force of the plot, with giggles over a curry and an earnest attempt by eleven year old Lisa Jane to keep her dad at home by stealing his van keys.
Ken Loach’s simple, realistic direction is perfect for this film, and as usual he lets the issues and the performances do the talking. His skill is in knowing when to step back, and how to make the audience feel as though they are a part of the story they are watching unfold. In Sorry We Missed You, this is so cleverly done, through realistic daytime and artificial lighting, and shots looking through doors and from behind a banister, making the viewer feel like they are in the Turners’ home. The plot is somewhat predictable, though I mostly attribute this to it being so realistic, something so many people in Britain are familiar with. The writing though, is beautifully and heart-breakingly effective, and truly gets to the heart of the damage that zero-hours contracts and austerity can do to people and their families.
One particular exchange brought me to tears: when the Turners’ son began skipping school and getting into fights, his dad warns him against going down a troublesome path, advising that he should get an education to keep his options open. His son responds with a cutting retort, asking if it’s so he doesn’t end up like his father. Having seen Ricky almost fall asleep at the wheel, and endure hell to make sure his family are okay, to try to escape debt and to finally get a mortgage, this is so hard to watch. Nobody and no family is perfect, but Sorry We Missed You expertly explores the horrid, sometimes violent effects that immense pressure and financial stress can have on a family, in an unflinching and honest portrayal of family life on a zero-hours contract.
Sorry We Missed You is another damning indictment of the gig economy and austerity policies from acclaimed I, Daniel Blake director Ken Loach. It is a truly heart-breaking and empathetic snapshot of a month or so in the life of a family living on the breadline — a rallying cry against the people, businesses and institutions that leave families like the Turners struggling so desperately.
Sorry We Missed You is in cinemas now.
Images courtesy of Sixteen Films.