Image Credit: Entertainment One
Ken Loach has done it again.
I braced myself walking in the cinema, as since first watching Cathy Come Home and last watching I, Daniel Blake years ago, I haven’t been able to get them out of my mind. Pure emotion and condemning political and social justice go hand in hand in Loach’s blood.
His extreme sensitivity and humanity can touch anyone who watches his films. And a heavy wave of hopelessness, too. It isn’t easy to get through a film like this, an undeniably human, unapologetically raw film, but it guarantees to leave you with a little more humanity and empathy by the time you walk out of the cinema.
Sorry We Missed You follows a working-class family in Newcastle trying to survive a harsh everyday of labour exploitation in gig economy. Ricky (Kris Hitchen), the dad, dreams of independence in work when joining an Amazon-like delivery company on a zero-hour contract; “You don’t work for us, you work with us.” Instead of taking control of his life and his working hours, he finds himself diving deeper and deeper into a vicious cycle, a nightmare of exploitation, while trying to balance his family life, with a young daughter and a difficult teenage son. Abby (Debbie Honeywood), the mum, has similar working conditions as a door-to-door carer for the elderly and disabled, a job also highly physically and emotionally demanding, while there is a “no friendliness with patients” policy. The latter makes you question the humanness of the working conditions even more, while witnessing illicit moments of pure connection, momentarily breaking the walls of desperation for both the patient and the carer.
Yes, this film will haunt you. It will make you view your delivery man in different eyes, and hopefully make the interactions more genuine next time they drop by, or stop you from using such services overall. It will make you get angrier at the system, it will shove its injustice in your face, following the pattern all Loach’s films have. But what this film really does, even more than the previous ones, is use these jobs as a vehicle of creating a collage of snapshots of lives: both jobs going from door-to-door, are used as an excuse to capture the lives of every person they interact with, in a few seconds of brilliant conversation by Paul Laverty, a few human glances exchanged. With Robbie Ryan’s discreet cinematography, the camera lingers on every passing character; even at moments of high distress, as when the main characters are at the waiting room of a hospital, the frame still ensures to paint a fleeting portrait of other anonymous lives in the room.
Everyone is going through something. Every bit of life is valuable. Every human gesture, every passerby at the bus, every exchanged smile or expressed anger. Loach and Laverty gently defy conventional narratives by adding almost the same weight of care on all of the big or small subjects of their film. Every background character is just as important, be it the woman who passes by at the street, or the main protagonist.
In a lifetime, it is not possible to make all the films about everything and everyone you want. Loach, at the age of 83, is possibly very aware of that. But in the end, it may not matter. When you view humans with such tenderness and attention, anyone could be anyone, and making such human films creates conversations beyond the screen, for struggles to be heard, and actions to be taken against injustice. At an age of Netflix when public broadcasting is struggling to survive, this film can be used as a reminder of why it is important to fight for it. It is a public service film, an intervention of public institutions— the BBC, BFI and Lottery Fund— to allow it to happen, and it proves itself in the importance of what it means to make art that is inclusive, and why it matters.
Editor's note: This film was screened at City Screen York.