You just know, from the opening conversation between Ricky and his new supervisor Maloney (Brewster) in Ken Loach’s searing social drama, that this is not going to be a happy journey to follow. Set in a soulless depot in Newcastle, the delivery company that Ricky is signing up to work for signifies the rising, damaging human costs within this specific contemporary gig economy that leaves people like Ricky without sick pay, holiday, or any sense of stability in spite of the job’s empty promises of self-made power.
“You don’t work for us, you work with us,” growls Maloney, a bald-headed wardrobe of a boss whose successful warehouse operation, it transpires, is built on a merciless stance against the tough, unpredictable circumstances that his drivers endure, which he emphasises with a self-given title of “patron saint of nasty bastards.”
With Ricky's status as an independent contractor comes a relentless wave of responsibility in comparison to traditional employment — drivers must provide their own vans, an ominous tracker records their movements throughout the day — but blind hope and a desperate need to provide a better future for his family push Ricky forwards, into an all-consuming routine of running between houses, accruing longer routes, and eventually urinating into a plastic bottle gifted to him in order to save more precious time.
Loach takes great care to construct a deep-rooted compassion within the family.
In earlier scenes Ricky is boyish, never missing an opportunity to turn the mundane into something fun. On a particularly good day, he takes daughter Lisa Jane (Proctor) out in the van and they share sandwiches against a gorgeous hilly landscape (illuminated by Robbie Ryan’s staggering cinematography). Ricky met his wife Abbie (Honeywood) at a rave when they were young, and together they work with teeth-grinding determination to give more opportunities to sullen teen Seb (Stone) and his younger sister Lisa Jane. It’s Seb who inevitably breaks the camel’s back, causing Ricky to take off work without sourcing cover, an intolerable offence within his self-accountable job that sees him heavily penalised —including financially.
Loach takes great care to construct a deep-rooted compassion within the family. He peppers their struggle with moments of stolen joy — when the family sit to enjoy a takeaway curry for a rare family dinner, you feel the value of the treat. Some storytelling is patchy — Seb’s character arc as a demonised delinquent who can’t see the world beyond his smartphone feels excessive — and calls to question whether events always need to turn quite so dire for Loach to make his point.
Regardless, Sorry We Missed You is an important and timely watch. As Loach’s Palme d’Or winner I, Daniel Blake bore down on the Department for Work and Pensions and a toxic culture that neglects the vulnerable, his new film arrives at a time when the gig economy is thriving without an end in sight, promising those in need choice and control when the reality is not just untrue, but life-threatening. This is a pivotal chapter for Britain, where thousands of families like those that Ricky and Abbie have created are struggling to survive, and the director is not in the mood to muddle messages.