Now into his sixth decade as a director, Ken Loach has followed up the Palme D’Or-winning I, Daniel Blake with another hard-hitting work of social realism. Teaming up once more with regular screenwriter Paul Laverty, Sorry We Missed You offers a scathing assessment of zero-hour contracts and the damaging effects the gig economy has on Britain’s working-class families.
Towards the beginning of Knock Down the House – the Netflix documentary which followed four novice campaigners running for congress – Alexandria Ocasio Cortez explains to the camera, arriving at her bar job in the early hours of the morning: “They call it working class because you never – stop – working.” In many ways, Loach’s latest film is a perfect embodiment of that observation. Sorry We Missed You covers a few months in the lives of labourer Ricky (Kris Hitchen) and his wife Abby (Debbie Honeywood), a middle-aged couple who toil round the clock in low-wage jobs to try and provide for their family.
Their dream of homeownership came to an end after Northern Rock collapsed in 2008 and now Ricky has decided to take a risk by joining the ranks of self-employed ‘gig economy’ contractors. He puts himself further in debt to buy a van and picks up work at a delivery depot where – he is told – “You don’t work for us, you work with us.” Abby’s job as a carer, also on a zero-hour contract, means both parents have little time to spend at home. When their son, Seb, starts skipping school, further stress is put on the couple, as Ricky fights hard to keep things together, despite the exhaustion of overwork and the burden of worsening finances.
The film captures the gig economy’s iniquities and internal contradictions without letting its audience forget the human cost of its algorithmic efficiencies. Loach is aided in his campaigning message thanks to an excellent performance from Kris Hitchen – a relative newcomer to the screen – who gives Ricky a bruised tenderness, beneath his anger and bitterness (novice actor Ross Brewster – who plays the uncaring depot manager Mulaney – is also something of a revelation in his first-ever role).
Occasionally, the script is a little too on-the-nose and expository, but the emotional force of the drama is such that those moments pass by without disturbing the overall impact of the film itself. Some commentators pointed out, back in 2016, how strange it was that, after all these decades, Loach had not been overtaken by a new voice of left-leaning British film. Sorry We Missed You makes it clear that I, Daniel Blake was not just a late return to form, taken together, these two films maintain Loach’s reputation as one of the most important political voices in British arts.