To a detractor of Ken Loach and Paul Laverty’s tone of storytelling, Sorry We Missed You may play as a simple encore of I, Daniel Blake. However, although it fits firmly alongside Loach’s most recent Palme D’Or winner – and a wider, socially conscious filmography stretching back to Cathy Came Home – to position it as such would overlook the excellent storytelling and moving script that delivers a human and damning indictment of modern employment trends.
The film opens on Ricky (Kris Hitchen) interviewing for an Amazon/DPD-like delivery firm with delivery depot manager Maloney (Ross Brewster). The conditions of his employment – that he is ‘his own boss’ – mean he takes responsibility for his vehicle, for finding replacement drivers, and his every movement is tracked and converted to metrics by the expensive handset he must rent from the delivery company.
Ricky is long unemployed after being laid off construction work in a depressed UK economy, and there is a lack of other opportunities for cash available to him. This prompts the family to sell their car – used by his professional care-giving wife, Abbie (Debbie Honeywood) – in order to afford a deposit for the van. The hours demanded of Ricky, and the increased strain on Abbie, take a toll on the family, particularly their rebellious teenage son Seb (Rhys Stone) and conscientious daughter Lisa Jane (Katie Proctor).
Many films have presented the descent of a protagonist, in various ways, as a result of external forces. However, the strength of Sorry We Missed You lies is the ensemble of consequences that befall Ricky’s family. The effects of overworking – for both Ricky and Abbie – are the cause of numerous on- and off-screen difficulties for the Turners. While Paul Laverty’s script calls for raised voices and plenty of arguments in small kitchens, elements that any viewer of British social drama will be familiar with, there is no single blowout that accelerates the plot to a conclusion. The effect of Ricky and Abbie’s work stress is death by a thousand cuts.
Interestingly, the antagonist figures in the film – although perhaps accented a little beyond the more banal nature of workplace passive aggression – are not caricatures of uncaring corporate types. Maloney is largely indifferent to his ‘contractors’ woes, but Ross Brewster is given an illuminating monologue that explains the approach he takes. The reasoning is a flawed one, steeped in the least empathetic excesses of a dysfunctional economy, but it highlights the issue is as much a maladjusted system that rewards this approach as it is folk in his position.
Unlike a huge number of films that try to highlight the plight of overstretched workers, the Turners are a loving and largely stable family beyond the usual bumps in the road having a teenage son might entail. There is no hint that their employment status has exacerbated an underlying character defect; this is a family stretched to breaking point by a system that prioritises corporate capital over societal empathy.
That strain is rendered beautifully and tangibly by both Hitchen and Honeywood as the lead couple. Hitchen’s performance is a more linear escalation of frustration on screen, whereas Honeywood’s depiction features a breaking point late on, which releases tension for the audience at the correct point in the narrative. The children’s performances augment this superbly also, in particular that of young Proctor, who carries a heartbreaking scene at the family dinner table with such naive guilt it acts as a crescendo of sorts as the film moves towards its non-cathartic resolution.
A well acted and well told story, Loach and Laverty’s tale is remarkable yet routine; moving yet mundane; inadmissible yet present.
Sorry We Missed You is a moving and difficult story of decent people doing their best in a system stacked against them. A deeply moving story, superbly told and acted.
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