‘Sorry We Missed You’ Review: Ken Loach’s True Story Delivers a Punch
A damning portrait of zero-hours contracts, private debt and public austerity in Brexit Britain.
Perhaps the only British filmmaker who scrutinises the problems ordinary workers and their families have to address each day, director Ken Loach is a national treasure who, throughout his career, has done nothing less than stand up and shout from the rooftops about society’s evils.
The leader of the second wave of British kitchen sink dramatist directors, his breakthrough came after directing the BBC’s The Wednesday Play including the likes of Up The Junction in 1965, which told the story of an unmarried factory worker who became pregnant, and had a back street abortion (it was illegal then) which prompted a horrific miscarriage.
After that, he rattled more cages with Cathy Come Home in 1966, which was voted the second best TV programme ever made in a BFI industry poll in 2000. It told the story of a young girl living on the streets with her baby, who is consequently taken from her by social services.
Moving into film, Loach was then at the helm for Poor Cow in 1967 and Ke, in 1969. Since then, he has kept the red flag flying and fought for the underdog, notching up a string of awards with, among others, The Wind That Shakes The Barley in 2006 and I, Daniel Blake in 2016 – both recipients of the Palme D’Or, the highest prize awarded at the Cannes Film Festival.
For his latest film, Sorry We Missed You, Loach focuses on the core of contemporary Britain – a country of zero-hours enslaved labour and service economy vassalage which is the norm for so many UK residents.
His protagonists are Ricky (played by Kris Kitchen), a former building worker who has lost his job, and his contract nurse wife Abby (Debbie Honeywood). Having lost everything as a result of the 2008 financial crisis, they are renting and getting further and further into debt.
In an effort to get the family back on its feet, Ricky takes a job using his new van – bought by selling the car his wife uses to do her care job – with a delivery company.
Ricky soon discovers that, if he takes a day off, the delivery company fine him £150. The delivery schedule is so tight that he cannot even stop to use the toilet, so he carries an empty water bottle with him. He has to meet stern targets for deliveries set by the scanner and meet precise slots for customers who have paid extra for such. He works 13-and-a-half hours a day on minimum wage and gets no holiday or sick pay, while his boss Maloney (Ross Brewster) is a heartless revolting bully who describes himself as the “biggest c**t you will ever meet”.
It reminded me of something from the Dickensian era but, then again, it might be what certain Tories want. It was Conservative parliamentary candidate Francesca O’Brien who wrote that all the people on Benefits Street should be “put down”.
Ricky’s wife, Abby, on the other hand, is a carer who looks after the elderly, some of whom have dementia.
As Ricky has the van – his company doesn’t allow anyone to drive it except him – Abby has to travel by bus to do her job. She is allotted a small amount of time per person and, if necessity causes her to go over that, she doesn’t get paid for the extra time.
She speaks of one night when she spends two hours cleaning up an old lady who, having defecated, has rubbed the faeces all over the walls, the floor and herself. “How could I leave her?” Abby protests. But she still doesn’t get paid more than her minimum waged hours.
Meanwhile, their 16-year-old son Seb (Rhys Stone), a stroppy, talented artist, has taken to graffiti, is bunking off school and nicking spray paint. When his dad berates him, telling him to get the grades to go to university, he tells him about his best mate’s brother who did just that and is now a homeless alcoholic drinking on a park bench because of the £57,000 of debt be accrued in college which he defaulted on because he was unemployed. Because he cannot now get any credit, he has no place to live.
Like many British youth, Seb has a spark of aspiration and considers tagging hard to reach walls as something that will serve him better. But only Banksy and a few others have made money from this, while the rest are still on the dole, nicking paint, eating cheap fast food and smoking skunk to deaden the harsh reality of being young in 2019.
“We’re drowning in quicksand,” proclaims Abby as the debts mount, her son is arrested and her husband suffers from extreme fatigue, ridiculously long shifts and extreme pressure. “What are we doing to each other?” she asks. But the question should be: what is society and the Government doing to us?
Abby and Ricky are not alone. Loach has simply underlined the plight of many families in the UK. 80,000 shop workers were made redundant last year and the rate of redundancies rose to its highest in six-and-a-half years. In advance of Brexit, European clients have made plans to eliminate their reliance on UK manufacturing suppliers.
While the Government’s figures boast of just 3.6% unemployment, the independent OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development) estimates that the figure could be three times as much – 3.6 million, citing high levels of “hidden” unemployment in towns and cities across Britain, which are excluded from official Government statistics.
Malaise is endemic in the UK as workers are forced to take very low paid, zero-hours contract jobs only to slip further down the ladder. The Government has turned a blind eye to the malady, but its budget cuts to social services have enabled the likes of Abby to do a very important job for a pittance, while student fees are killing the ambitions of the young.
A hard-hitting movie, Sorry We Missed You is based, in part, on the story of 53-year-old Don Lane, 53, from Christchurch in Dorset, who worked for delivery service DPD. On one occasion, he was fined £150 by the company for taking time off to see a specialist about eye damage caused by diabetes. As he couldn’t afford another fine, he missed seeing specialists and subsequently fell into a diabetic coma while driving in December, worked through Christmas while seriously ill, and died on 4 January 2018. He’d worked for DPD for 19 years. I knew nothing of this before I saw this film and am entirely appalled.
This film underlines just a few of the injustices that are crippling Britain and its workers today. While Brexit is never mentioned in the film, it’s worth remembering that the European Union is the only guardian of employment rights. Brexit will surely open the door to even more abuse, more exploitation, more poverty and more misery for the working class.
Ken Loach has, in this excellent movie, once again drawn a big fat red line under our very wrong society. Let’s hope it will give people pause for thought.
Sorry We Missed You is in cinemas now.
Photos courtesy of Wild Bunch