Shy sobs and sighs accompanied the closing credits. I even heard the lady sitting next to me suspire deeply and say ‘Love, that was horrible’ to her partner. Perhaps this is sufficient evidence to hold the claim that Ken Loach and Paul Laverty – director and writer respectively-, have yet again managed to move an audience to tears.
Sorry We Missed You offers a thorough reflection of a socioeconomic environment that is dehumanizing at its core. Ricky Turner, played in a masterly manner by Kris Hitchen, is the father of the young and sweet Lisa Jane (Katie Proctor) and the troubled adolescent Sebastian (Rhys Stone). He is loving and caring, just like his wife Abbie (Debbie Honeywood) whom he met at a rave concert in previous, less troublesome times. But besides being loving and caring, they are something else; broke.
Ricky and Abbie are shown to be struggling since the 2008 financial crash, during which they lost both their mortgage and savings. Almost hopeless after switching unsuccessfully from job to job for years, Ricky comes home with a work opportunity in the growingly popular ‘gig-economy’; a free-market system in which companies hire independent contractors or freelancers with no permanent contracts, and pay their not-exactly-employees for each individual ‘gig’ instead of paying them per hour or day. However unprotected and unregulated the system is, the gig economy is now responsible for 4.7 million livelihoods in Britain. Where does it get its appeal from? The trick, delivered by Ricky’s bully-boss Maloney, is to make the workers feel emancipated, autonomous. Maloney sells Ricky the ‘opportunity of a lifetime’ of becoming ‘his own boss’ making ‘his own choices’, when in fact the only sale that is happening is that of Ricky’s own freedom and basic labour rights.
By following Ricky throughout his deliveries around Newcastle and Abbie’s overstretched and underpaid shifts as a senior caregiver, we come to understand Loach’s anger and frustration towards the unfairness of these zero-hour contracts. To add salt to injury, the frustration is enhanced by the heartbreaking way in which the family members become affected by the absenteeism of the working parents. Seb starts skipping school and instead vandalizes the streets, while Lisa Jane tries to keep the house in order while her parents are not home and wets her bed at night in anguish.
Ken Loach is angry, he’s been angry since the 60s with film productions such as Cathy Come Home (1966), and Kes (1969). His style doesn’t seem to have changed much; his social dramas are so realistic they become documentary-like. Taking a socialist intention to heart, Loach focuses on working class, impoverished communities and individuals who are forgotten by the system, left to their own devices to survive. Subjected to constant humiliation to survive. As Loach himself asked during an interview with The Guardian in 2016, right after releasing his Palme d’Or winner I, Daniel Blake ‘If you’re not angry about it, what kind of person are you?’.
As the film develops the scenes become greyer and greyer. We, the audience, become as exhausted as the characters in the film. The naturalistic character of it allows us to experience the heartbreaking humanitarian injustice of the situation. And as the state of affairs become all the more complicated and irreconcilable, we become growingly and almost desperately concerned with asking ourselves; Will there be a solution? Will the characters find a way to make ends meet? Will Ricky be able to ‘figure it out’ as he’s promised one too many times? It appears it’s up to Loach and Laverty to either deliver us or hold back the answers.
Written by Martine Wu