Although The Angels’ Share (2012) is broadly encouraging fantasy, there are intrusive influences, of aggression and brutality, that linger and re-emerge alongside the worship of a good whisky. They stem from inter-family violence that has almost certainly shackled the protagonist, Robbie (Paul Branningan), since birth: No fight ever settled anything, because it was just grounds for the next one and no one on either side declines to fight and remains a man (or alive).
The pattern is as old as Romeo and Juliet , or as modern as the lively causal nexus of Drive (2011), but, whilst showing it, Loach uses it as backdrop to what’s at the film’s heart. Having unexpectedly found a caring face of rehabilitation, in receiving the friendship, instruction and support of Harry (John Henshaw), Robbie has the confidence to take a chance when he sees it.
In a spirited way (pun intended), he dares embark on an enterprise, which, if successful, will bypass class barriers and cock a silent snook at those maintaining them. As with all films where it feels natural to take sides, we are with him and his mates Albert, Mo and Rhino all the way, setting aside morality and legality.
We know the trio from opening scenes in court, just before also meeting Robbie and his heavily pregnant girlfriend Leonie. The four ‘team up’ in community service under Harry’s care, and then everything springs from Harry, as he shares his enthusiasm for scotch: fittingly enough, as the word ‘whisky’ (deriving from Gaelic usquebaugh ) means ‘the water of life’. Robbie – portrayed maybe not totally convincingly – turns out to have a true taster’s nose (in a significant change of scene in Edinburgh).
Camouflaged in kilts, they strike out from Glasgow, and, footsore, reach Balblair distillery: a telling rural idyll, in distant Ross-shire. In a contrast with city life, the plot then centres on the treasure and promise harboured by a rare cask from the ’lost’ Islay distillery of Malt Mill.
There is much real surprise, mirth, and heartbreak in this tale of potential redemption through a devotion to an equally likely and unlikely cause.