“Every whisky has a story. It has to have a narrative arc.”
So said whisky writer Dave Broom last week during a whisky tasting after a screening of Ken Loach’s new film, The Angels’ Share, which premiered to widespread acclaim at Cannes on the 21 May. It tied in perfectly; after all, the film features whisky throughout and its narrative arc will no doubt go down as well with dram lovers as a well storied whisky.
Set in Glasgow, the film follows a group of young offenders (Robbie, Mo, Albert and Rhino) who are attempting to find their way in the world. Each has been convicted of some crime – whether it be the light-hearted intoxication in public done by Albert or the more serious GBH charges for Robbie. The latter, the film’s main character, is let off with community service on the basis that he is trying to change and also because he is about to become a father and wants to be there for his future child.
The film is not what one might expect from Loach, who won the Palme D’or at Cannes in 2006 for Irish civil war film The Wind That Shakes the Barley. His films are normally more gritty – think, 2002’s Sweet Sixteen or the much older film from 1969, Kes. But, like the latter films, Loach sets this one again within the working class confines that many more young people are now facing as the recession continues – unemployment, rough neighbourhoods, crime.
“We wanted to tell a story about this generation of young people, a lot of whom face an empty future,” explains Loach.
So, how does all of this fit in with the world of whisky?
All of the young offenders are given community service, during which they meet the wonderfully sweet and wise social worker Harry (played by John Henshaw). Realising these kids aren’t as bad as society makes them out to be, Harry takes an interest in their development and decides to take them on a day trip to a whisky distillery. There the group learns all about the process in a beautifully shot and wonderfully educational tour. Upon nosing and tasting, Robbie is pronounced as having a good palate, a fact which pushes him to continue his education on whisky. The group also learns about a hugely rare upcoming auction of a long-lost cask of Malt Mill whisky (a distillery which closed in 1962 and for which there are no known bottles). Soon after, they begin formulating a plan to steal the whisky in a comedy-heist which sees the group hitchhike and walk their way to the Balblair Distillery in northern Scotland in order to pull off their scam and make themselves enough money to get out of their undesirable situations. For Robbie, it is a chance to prove to his father-in-law that he will do anything to provide for his new born son Luke and girlfriend Leonie. The ending will bring a wee bit of emotion to even the most staid of viewers.
I won’t give any more away but instead recommend you go and see the film yourself. It is endearing, laugh-out-loud funny and, indeed, still dark in certain places – two full-on violent scenes will make you pause for thought between the giggles.
And best off? Whisky is placed on the big screen in all its glory in a film that will attract thousands of viewers outside of the whisky industry. Whisky expert Charlie Maclean plays a charming role as character Rory McAllister, while shots of distilleries and Scotland will make you swoon.
Just make sure you take a flask with you into the cinema. I recommend the Balblair 1989 to go along with the scenes at the distillery. I had some after the screening for the first time since last autumn’s TWE show and was overcome with love for its spicy, caramel-dipped apple and banana flavours once more.
The Angels’ Share – which has been nominated for this year’s Palme D’or at Cannes – is released in UK cinemas on the 1 June.