Highland fable to lift the spirit

The problem with Ken Loach, his detractors say, is that he is always making films about the same tiresome old subjects: unions, poverty and working-class heroes. Of course Loach, who is now an energetic 76, puts it differently: he wants to tell ''the real stories as opposed to the escapist stories''.

Right now, his concern is for a generation of unemployed kids who may never find a job.

''Your children, when they are born, have massive possibilities and talents,'' he says. ''The economic system drives them into situations where they can do nothing, they have no hope and they have no possibility of job security. That's such a big issue you have to return to it again and again.'' In his latest film, The Angels' Share, these lost youths become the subject of comedy.

The Angels' Share is set in Glasgow, home town of Loach's regular writer, Paul Laverty, and follows four amiable young offenders (played by, pictured from left, Jasmin Riggins, Gary Maitland, Paul Brannigan and William Ruane) on a community service project. When their supervisor, Harry (John Henshaw), takes them to a Highland whisky distillery, they learn that there are some hugely valuable whiskies, some super-rich people who want them and some shady operators looking to match them up. Even a bunch of losers such as them should be able to make a few quid out of these connected facts, they reason.

Loach and Laverty worked with whisky expert Charlie MacLean, who is a Master of the Quaich, to get their facts right and cultivate their own noses. ''There is a great craft to making whisky,'' Laverty says. ''The irony is that many young people in Scotland, who grew up with whisky under their noses, have literally never tasted it and never been to the countryside where it's distilled.

''You'd find that hard to believe, wouldn't you, in a tiny little country like Scotland?

''I found that quite shocking. So we tried to use all of that.''

Of course, Loach says, The Angels' Share is a fable, not an employment plan for Glaswegian tearaways. As such, it takes a sunnier view of the world than many of his films. There are no real villains; even the slippery whisky dealer (Roger Allam) is a diamond underneath his public-school manners.

''Well, yes,'' Loach says gently, ''but you can't twist every story to have the bad guys.''

Sometimes, even Loach just wants to have a laugh.

THE ANGELS' SHARE

GENRE Ealing-style caper comedy.

CRITICAL BUZZ Won a Special Jury Prize in Cannes, despite being more crowd-pleasing than cutting-edge. Like the audience, the jury must have been rooting for those Scottish underdogs. ''For all its bleak edges, The Angels' Share warms like a sip of the good stuff,'' opines Total Film.

STARS Paul Brannigan, John Henshaw, Siobhan Reilly.

DIRECTOR Ken Loach.

RELEASE Now screening.

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