Director Ken Loach and his regular screenwriter Paul Laverty are back in Cannes gunning for what would be a record-breaking third Palme d’Or – the highest prize awarded at the Cannes Film Festival – after The Wind That Shakes The Barley and I, Daniel Blake took the honours in, respectively, 2006 and 2016. Their new film is called Sorry We Missed You and it's one of their best – more tense and harrowing than any Hollywood thriller.
It might have been called Drive Angry, the focus falling on Ricky (Kris Hitchen), a former construction worker in Newcastle who takes a job delivering parcels. He is not, says the firm’s no-nonsense manager (Ross Brewster), an employee, but is rather “onboarded”, expected to provide his own van (or rent one from the firm for £65 a day) and be his own boss. It sounds like a good deal – good enough for Ricky to persuade his wife Abbie (Debbie Honeywood), a carer, to sell her car and take the bus from home to home so that Ricky might put down a £1000 deposit on a van. In truth, it means that Ricky is entitled to zero benefits. He is unable to break for lunch or take days off for sickness or R&R.
Abbie similarly works ridiculous hours in a job that pays minimum wage. Only her rushed appointments with each “client” are recompensed – her hours spent travelling are not – and we watch, angered and horrified, as a loving family is unbearably burdened. Teenage son Seb (Rhys Stone) is suspended from school, and his younger sister, Liza Jane (Katie Proctor), is wetting the bed.
Something of a companion piece to I, Daniel Blake, which bristled with anger at the Kafkaesque benefits system, Sorry We Missed You offers a similarly unadorned drama set in zero-hours modern Britain. Loach and Laverty pile small misery upon small misery to incrementally tighten the screw, but only once do they perhaps go too far, teetering towards their own brand of torture-porn as yet another mishap, this one sizeable, plunges the family into debts that demand more hours at work, more toxicity at home.
Sorry We Missed You is a chilling, heart-breaking drama leavened by moments of everyday humour and a beating heart. It is convincingly performed and at times finds beauty in unexpected places, such as a lengthy street lined on either side by swollen bin bags as it tapers into the distance. This is the kind of film that unites festival jurors – anyone with a social conscience or so much as a shred of humanity will gravitate towards it – and that third Palme d’Or is a real possibility.
For more Cannes 2019 coverage read our review of Elton John biopic Rocketman.