Want an antidote to the recent overload of royal news? I just saw a wonderful movie about a group of people about as far from the doings of the aristocracy as it’s possible to get in the British Isles.
The Angels’ Share, directed by Ken Loach, takes its title from the traditional name for the 2 percent of the volume of single malt whiskey that somehow gets absorbed or evaporates from every barrel distilled. The movie opens in a Glasgow courtroom, where asorted young petty criminals are being sentenced to community service for their misdeeds. The most serious offender is a young man named Robbie. For no good reason other than generalized rage, he has mercilessly beaten another young man to a pulp. His victim has lost the sight in one eye. And this is only the last in a long string of violent offenses. By rights, he should be sent to prison. But sitting in the courtroom is his girlfriend, about to have his baby at any moment. The judge gives him a break: he’s off to community service with the others.
The girlfriend is middle-class, smart and tough with Robbie. He is strictly on probation with her, though she loves him. Her family not only detests him, but chases him down and beats him up. Her father tries to pay him off to disappear. But the girlfriend sees something in Robbie, and he sees something in her and the newborn son. He just needs a break.
How many caper movies have you seen where the hero just needs to pull off one more crime in order to escape from his past forever? How many times have you seen it work? In this movie, miraculously and hilariously, it does work. Robbie and his misfit friends are taken under the wing of the kindly but tough supervisor of their community service. He happens to be a devotee of fine whiskies. After sharing a congratulatory drink with Robbie on the birth of his new son, the supervisor invites him to a very posh whiskey-tasting event in Edinburgh. His new friends Rhino, Albert and Mo invite themselves along, and we’re off. It seems Robbie has an incredible nose for fine whiskey–totally unexpected in a young man who previously spent most of his life getting plastered on whatever was cheap. He also has a fine analytical mind and a talent for leadership.
The version I saw had subtitles, and it needed them. The Scottish low-life brogue used by the characters is fast-moving, profane, and howlingly funny. The very dimmest bulb of the group comes up with the very best idea: wearing kilts to pull off a daring heist.
The story is a bit of a fairy tale; the crime is pretty much victimless. What is special is the look inside the lives of lower-class Scottish youth, contrasted with the lives of much more refined Scots, Brits, and one American with way too much money. Who knew that whiskey had such an intricate and proud history? Who knew that single malt whiskey is a way of literally tasting history?
The movie won the Jury Prize at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. The stellar cast includes Paul Brannigan, a newcomer totally convincing as Robbie, plus Jasmin Riggins, Gary Maitland, William Ruane, John Henshaw, and Siobhan Reilly.
One of many positive reviews of the movie is in The New York TImes at http://movies.nytimes.com/movie/465769/The-Angels-Share/overview. It’s by Stephen Holden.
There’s a movie trailer at The Angels‘ Share (2012) – Official Trailer [HD] – YouTube
I visited Edinburgh a couple of years ago and passed on the distillery tour. Health nut that I am, I wasn’t interested. Now I’m putting it on my list for the next time I go.