Movie Review: 'Sorry We Missed You' Is an Ode to Everyday Victims of Bad Policies

The biggest villain of Ken Loach's film – the derailed capitalist system and an indifferent government – doesn’t even have a face, leaving people to squabble among each other.

Ricky Turner (Kris Hitchen) – a middle-aged man, father to a son and a daughter – has found a job after a long time. An agency hires him as a self-employed delivery driver, giving him a chance to reorder his life. Ricky’s first conversation with his supervisor-to-be is reassuring. “You don’t work for us,” he tells Ricky, “you work with us.”

Ricky’s wife, Abbie (Debbie Honeywood), works as a carer – shuttling from house to house, looking after differently-abled children and elders – which provides additional income to the family. Ricky and Abbie’s children are in school; there are bills to be paid, responsibilities to shoulder. They’re a loving, happy bunch, but in a world that renders you choiceless, suggests filmmaker Ken Loach, can love ever be enough?

Loach’s latest, Sorry We Missed You, which premiered at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year and recently screened at the 21st Mumbai Film Festival, carries his long tradition of championing for the English working class, who have been shortchanged by their countries’ policies and societal apathy. In Sorry We Missed You – set in a post-2008 financial crisis world – he turns his attention towards the gig economy.

Ricky has lurked in the shadows for long, flitting from one part-time job to another, without any fixed source of income. He is certainly not alone – or, to be precise, it’s not his fault – for Abbie is in the same situation, and so are many in the UK. This story, in fact, has parallels with many working classes across nations, including the US – regular individuals paying the cost of poor political and corporate decisions.

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But Loach takes a different approach in telling this story: he doesn’t concentrate on the perpetrators but on the survivors. Through the plight of the Turners, he invites us to take a close hard look at not the policies but their impact: the end goal of any political decision.

It also helps that the screenwriter Paul Laverty – Loach’s frequent collaborator, who has written more than a dozen scripts for the filmmaker, including the two Palme d’Or winners, The Wind That Shakes the Barley (2006) and I, Daniel Blake (2016) – writes immensely identifiable characters: the polite, understanding mother; the rebellious, rough-around-the-edges son; the caring, yet angsty, impatient father. This gives us the sense that we’re not just watching a film about a family in Newcastle; look closely, and this could be your story, too.

As Ricky’s job starts to fall apart – the supervisor turned out to be every bit callous as any other manager; the hidden pitfalls here, the steep penalties for trivial mistakes, keep piling on, pushing him into further despair – his frustration and anger start rubbing on his family members, especially his elder son, Seb (Rhys Stone), who has a few problems of his own.

Sorry We Missed You takes us step-by-step through the Turners’ descent. It is quite evident to Ricky that he can no longer be the caregiver of his family; he has to endure insults just to keep his job; he has no say in, and no control of, his own life. His deep sense of emasculation – his helpless desire to regain control – causes him to lash out at home. Ricky starts becoming an abusive father and a shut-off husband. Seb, on the other hand, is too young, and too haughty, to see the big picture. The family, with no external anchor, starts to eat itself from the inside.

This insight has to be one of the most memorable triumphs of Sorry We Missed You. In Ricky’s family, no one is a villain as such – however, no one, except Abbie, is not flawed, either – and yet, they’re at each other’s throats all the time: shouting, insulting, misunderstanding. The film’s biggest villain – the derailed capitalist system and an indifferent government – doesn’t even have a face, leaving people to squabble among each other.

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Loach and Laverty also nail a critical facet of modern-day poverty: that it is, in essence, a steep, slippery incline – that the more desperate you are, the harder you fall; the harder you fall, the more desperate you get. It’s a vicious cycle that feeds on itself and swells to gargantuan proportions. There is no getting out; an entire population, on the lower echelons of the society, had been captivated a long time ago, and the keys were thrown away.

But Sorry We Missed You is not a polemical piece – that would have been way too easy and, arguably, way less effective. Loach’s film instead unfolds in varying cadence – there’s despair but also humour; there’re grave mistakes but also reckoning of the self, the resolve to do better – that makes this story identifiable, come home.

Loach, in-tune with the nuances of the story, doesn’t give us a rousing climax, a panacea that magically emerges in the final few minutes. Ricky remains who he was – a faceless number, a disposable commodity – discarded in lieu of a thundering ‘success’ story. The country wins, but the countrymen lose.