SEVERAL of the films that Ken Loach has directed begin with a statement from a basically decent human being. Then the audience is shown the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune which assail the poor soul.
Sorry We Missed You (Cert. 15) is in no exception. Ricky Turner (Kris Hitchen), a hard-working unemployed labourer, resorts to driving a van for Parcels Delivered Fast. Its manager, Maloney (Ross Brewster), says that people work under contract for themselves, are their own bosses, decide on how many hours they put in. These are weasel words; for this is the gig economy, an unacceptable face of capitalism that we, through our online purchases, have allowed to become acceptable.
Drivers are subject to barely realisable schedules, monitored by an electronic “gun” that tracks where they must be at any moment. They don’t have enough time to vist the lavatory, and must be content with urinating into a bottle. Any falling short of targets results in fines and/or the reduction of “fees”. No allowances are made for any deviation from the itinerary, such as bailing out Ricky’s erring son Sebastian (Rhys Stone), caught shoplifting.
Ricky’s wife, Abbie (Debbie Honeywood), is likewise on a short-term contract. Although subject to a cash-strapped regime, she cares lovingly for the housebound, cleaning up their messes, and bathing and feeding them. Not only are the Turners exhausted: there are heartbreaking consequences for family life. Sebastian and his sister, Lisa (Katie Proctor), are latch-key kids, deeply missing the quality time that they previously knew with their parents. Life has been tough for them all since they had to relinquish their own house after the collapse of the former building sociey Northern Rock.
Sorry We Missed You is much more than a carefully researched examination of the ethical and social issues raised by zero-hours contracts; nor is it merely a party-political broadcast, though it could have the same effect if viewers join up the dots. For the spiritually inclined, it is a reminder of the parable of the sheep and the goats. There are those who do their utmost for others, and those who make the former feel the weight of their authority. The biblical echo is not surprising, given that Loach’s long-term screenwriter is Paul Laverty, an ex-Roman Catholic seminarian.
Credit, however, must also go to this seemingly mild-mannered director. His films reveal a disposition similar to that of the prophet Amos or a firebrand preacher, in fervently seeking after what is recognisable as God’s righteousness. Loach is to be greatly admired for resisting — from Cathy Come Home to I, Daniel Blake — any softening of his defiant stance against the oppression of all those people who (to quote George Bailey in It’s A Wonderful Life) “do most of the working and paying and living and dying” in our communities.
Sorry We Missed You is a shocking exposé of the failure to realise “The Big Society” envisioned in David Cameron’s 2011 speech. Give preference to our taxpayer status rather than assert ourselves as responsible citizens, we have lost sight of who is really paying the price in ensuing misery.