"This decides who lives and who dies," rigid manager Maloney says to sunken-eyed protagonist Ricky (newcomer Kris Hitchen) as he hands him his scanning device – a figure of speech which, it quickly becomes clear, isn’t really a figure of speech at all.
Sorry We Missed You, Ken Loach’s latest award winning film, begins with Ricky’s interview as he prepares to take on a job with a delivery firm as an “owner driver franchisee” who works not for the company, but with the company. “You are given the illusion of freedom,” script writer Paul Laverty explains, referring to the firm’s control over their employees despite telling them they are independent workers. His wife Abby (an exceptionally moving Debbie Honeywood) is an in-home carer and nurse, working a zero-hour contract job and having to attend to unpredictable clients and emergency calls. The film, depicting Ricky and Abby’s life as they attempt to save up for a house after the 2008 financial crash, is a mosaic of injustices marked by ridiculous rules – Ricky must pay another driver to take his place if he cannot do his shift – and interminable hardships – Abby deals daily with uncooperative seniors and long bus rides from one client to another after Ricky sells her car to buy a van. It is the moving story of a simple family slowly succumbing to their ordeal, undeserving of their struggles and unsupported by the state. A mixture of tears and laughter – surprisingly – resonates long after the film is finished, as we question how exactly that Amazon package got onto our doorstep.
Inspired partly by real life driver Don Lane, who died in January 2018 after missing too many doctor appointments just because he couldn’t afford to take time off, the themes of economic and social injustice can be overdone at times; a three legged dog limping by in the background seems placed there out of habit and laziness. But as with "I, Daniel Blake" – Loach’s previous film which sees a heart attack survivor being forced to work even though his doctors have specifically told him not to – it is impossible not to leave the cinema fuming: Loach’s films, as usual, pack a punch and excel at making both character and viewer powerless, but are united in a common understanding and a determination to take action.
What is seriously at play in "Sorry We Missed You", however, is lack of time. Abby and Ricky run – literally – between different locations, rushed to be punctual for a client or parcel and being left with absolutely no time whatsoever to spend with their children. Teenager Sebastian, whose petty delinquency and truancy is rapidly taking a turn for the worse, and Lisa-Jane, a sensitive preteen who just wants her family “back to normal” and who serves as a heart-breaking reminder that it is not only the workers who are affected by their jobs. The harshness of the film centres around what seemingly is a lack of a solution as the family finds itself trapped in an exhausting routine where a rare communal Chinese takeaway dinner is interrupted by an emergency call buzzing Abby’s phone to life.
Unlike "I, Daniel Blake" and Loach’s much earlier film "My Name is Joe" – titles that demonstrate an assertion of character – this family doesn’t even have time to pick a fight, a pessimistic and hopeless outlook that is reflected in the film’s ending. There is soon, for both character and viewer, no time to think, no time to breathe and no time to release the anger and frustration that bubbles up daily. It is in this build-up of emotion, and more notably in scenes of public humiliation, that Loach excels. While "I, Daniel Blake" sees single mother of two Katie crack open a can of beans at a food bank and shovel it into her mouth using her bare hands out of crippling hunger – a scene Mark Kermode says leaves him “a shivering wreck” – "Sorry We Missed You"’s climax sees Abby break down in a hospital waiting room, finally pushed to breaking point by the weeks of torment her family has been through. It is when the suffering bursts the bubble, when it can no longer be contained inside the familial sphere, that the figures of speech adopt a literal sense.
"Sorry We Missed You" isn’t just a common courtesy to a customer who wasn’t at home during the time of delivery – it is an apology to all of the carers and drivers who have been forgotten in the cogs of a reprimanding system’s machine.
Edited by Andriani Scordellis, Film Editor and Alexia McDonald, Head Digital Editor