“You’re a slave to the money then you die,” lamented British alt-rockers The Verve in their sweeping pop ballad “Bitter Sweet Symphony.”
Proving more than just the dramatic, incest-ridden crescendo from Cruel Intentions, the song’s damning critique of inequality captures the mood felt in a long line of British films that detail the financial pressures placed on the working-class. The reverberations felt from Thatcher-era economic politics, passing through not as ripples but as all-consuming waves, have inspired this long line of contemporary filmmaking, with the likes of The Full Monty, Billy Elliot, and as recently as 2019’s Blinded by the Light, offering inquisitive looks into the impact of job loss on society.
The history of this inequity remains felt amongst disenfranchised British communities, whose contemporary working-class hardships is offered a heart-rending spotlight in Ken Loach’s poignantly-told drama Sorry We Missed You.
Struggling to find employment post the 2008 financial crisis, husband and father of two Ricky (Kris Hitchen) accepts work at a local delivery company in north-east England. Hired under the guise of being a ‘franchisee’, a far cry from the reality of his employment, Ricky learns quickly the demanding nature of his work; the gruelling extent leaving him little room for error, bathroom breaks, and most importantly, family time.
Loach gazes at inequity through familial struggle. The Palme d’Or winning director effectively uses the plight of Ricky’s family, and his difficulty navigating (healthy) employment, to reveal how economic pressures negatively impact broader society. The damaging extent of this hardship is brought out in Ricky’s turbulent relationship with his children; his efforts to provide a roof for them rendering him absent in their day-to-day. The most visibly betrodden by this is Ricky’s son Seb (Rhys Stone), whose waywardness places added stress on the already hard-pressed delivery-man and his wife Abbie (Debbie Honeywood).
The endearing grit brought out in Hitchen and Honeywood’s performance empowers Sorry We Missed You to stand up as an uplifting nod to the perseverance and moxie of the working-class. Loach succeeds in presenting hardship without drifting into sensationalism, though he rattles the bar as he attempts to clear it. The well-meaning nature of Ricky and Abbie, whose resilience is matched in equal measure with their sense of responsibility, grants Sorry We Missed You a level of authenticity that can forgive the occasionally overreaching screenplay by long-time Loach collaborator Paul Laverty.
That said, Laverty navigates Sorry We Missed You out of trite waters by interrogating classism at a systemic and cultural level. Societal pressures, stemming from problematic gender norms and a ‘more-for-less’ economic landscape, depict the ecosystem that inequity not only manifests, but breeds as an endless cycle. It is an eye for fervent storytelling that aims for the heart and jugular, with Loach crafting a timely piece of work that ought not to be apologetic for its confronting portrayal of class.
SCREEN REALM SCORE: ★★★★☆
‘Sorry We Missed You’ is now available on DVD and Blu-ray thanks to Icon Film Distribution.