For my third review of the Take One Action Festival, I choose the final film, Ken Loach’s Sorry We Missed You. This screening was preceded with a lot of heart-warming thanks for the many people involved in this important festival, whose aim is to inspire and empower people to talk about the issues and take action.
It was a privilege to see this film before it is released in this country in early November. It has been shown elsewhere, including Cannes where Loach’s 2016 film, I Daniel Blake, was awarded the Palme d’Or. Sorry We Missed You is likely to receive equally high acclaim, although its gritty realism is not to everyone’s taste. Nor is its message likely to get through to the people who seriously need to hear it.
The story centres on a father, Ricky, (Kris Hitchen) who takes on a job as a white-van driver, selling the family car to finance the van. His wife, Abbie (Debbie Honeywood) then has to take public transport to get to her scattered appointments as a health visitor.
Although Ricky works for a delivery firm, with targets, restrictions, and imposed sanctions for delivery failures, his position is that of self-employed ‘franchisee’ – thus leaving him with no employment rights. When trouble brews in the family due to the teenage son’s activities, neither parent is able to take time off work without incurring penalties.
The family spirals into a hopeless battle, which, despite the love and affection that exists, offers no resolution or respite. Tinged with touches of hope and humour, it is nonetheless a bleak and brutal depiction of the way the current government has conned us into thinking that we have a happy, healthy and wealthy workforce in this country.
The good thing about attending festival screenings is that the Q & A gives an added perspective. We were honoured to have screenwriter Paul Laverty, Ken Loach’s long-term collaborator, who invited not just questions, but comments and criticism from the audience.
First, he was asked if the research had revealed more extreme cases than the one depicted. Part of the inspiration for the story was the case of a courier for DPD, who had skipped several hospital appointments to treat his Type 1 diabetes because he had been charged £150 by DPD for missed deliveries. He fell into a coma, and died. Forced overworking becomes an almost suicidal incentive, and stripping workers of the opportunity for holidays, sickness pay, or adequate insurance leaves people paradoxically disenfranchised.
As Laverty put it, “What is the point of work I we can’t look after our kids?” Another point was made, that the Press can accuse film-makers of exaggeration, or suggest that this is just fiction. “The devil’s in the detail,” replied Laverty, pointing out that Politicians lie about high unemployment. If the research is competent, the truth will come out, but it’s important to “pick beneath the lies.”
The way big companies are able to exploit the workforce is wrapped up in insidious and clever language. Lawyers and psychologists are used to create terminology that, actually, transfers all the risks from the company to the employee. “We call it ‘on-boarding’,” says the boss of the fictional delivery firm as he offers to take Ricky on. But fake-franchises and zero-hour employment that strips workers of their rights is not fiction.
The other two films I reviewed for this Festival, The Prosecutors and Scheme Birds were documentaries. Why, then, doesn’t Loach choose to represent these stories that way? To the question, “Does fictionalising open up criticism from those who don’t believe it?” Paul Laverty spoke of the importance of using our imagination.
“Fiction is truthful,” he told us: “because it’s not always black and white.” The purpose of this Festival is to engage, and to harness the energy and creativity that we see in, for example, among young people in climate change activism. As Laverty pointed out, making money in such gross ways will destroy our economy. “We need stories to help us to understand the world around us – to help us reflect.”
He ended by quoting from Frederick Douglass, who said ‘Power concedes nothing without a demand.’ This Festival, and this film, will hopefully inspire people to do what it says on the brochure: “TAKE A SEAT, TAKE A STAND.” Visit the Take One Action website and be part of the action.
Sorry We Missed You is on general release from November 1st.