This film is a companion piece to the last Ken Loach film 'I, Daniel Blake'. Like that film, 'Sorry We Missed You' is also set in the north-east. At the public premiere of the film at the Tyneside Cinema on 23 October, at the question and answer session, the director Ken Loach and screenplay writer Paul Laverty, stated that the idea of the film came from their research for 'I, Daniel Blake'. For that film they visited many food banks up and down the country and were struck as to how so many of those queuing for food were in full-time jobs. This resulted in their research into those working in the 'gig economy' or those such as care workers working for in effect less than the minimum wage since time travelling to jobs is not included as work.
The film focuses on husband Ricky Turner played by Kris Hitchen, who takes a job as a van delivery driver. The job is deemed to be self-employed but with little freedom and harsh penalties for taking time off, even to respond to family emergencies. We see the pressure of meeting delivery targets where basic human needs such as even going to the toilet are ignored. We also see the mum, Abbie Turner, played by Debbie Honeywood, caring for a number of isolated vulnerable people with a variety of needs. The gentleness and sensitive attentiveness shown to people who are fragile and vulnerable provides some of the most tender and humane scenes I have seen in cinema.
The film does not want to simply highlight the extreme and demanding realities of Ricky's and Abbie's jobs but also the corrosive affect it has on family life. Seb, played by Rhys Jones, and Lisa Jane, played by Katie Proctor, are seen to be having to cope and adapt to the damaging impact the jobs have on their parents and their relationship with each other. The strains, tensions and violence expressed within the family highlight the damaging implications of extreme and heartless working conditions.
The film is relentless in its attempt to reveal the inhumanness of a system many people are trapped within, but corny and definite endings are avoided.
Ken Loach and Paul Laverty are to be congratulated for highlighting issues pertinent to the north-east but also throughout the world, where the gig economy and low wages erode the sense of dignity and humanity and security people long for.
The Catholic Christian tradition places great emphasis on the importance of family life as the basic cell of the Church and society. When there are trends in social and economic life - as highlighted by this film - that are so damaging of families and the dignity of human beings, then the Church cannot be bystanders.
In the question and answer session Ken Loach made the point that the system that is so detrimental to human dignity and the unity of families is the same system that is affecting our environment and is the concern of Extinction Rebellion. In this point Loach is on similar ground to Pope Francis who is critical in Laudato Si' of what he calls a 'technocratic paradigm', which reduces people and the planet to objects, like pieces of technology which can be disposed of when no longer needed. In his call for an 'integral ecology' Pope Francis is calling us to be in a mutual relationship with each other, the planet and God.
'Sorry We Missed You' powerfully demonstrates the impact when mutual respect of the inherent dignity of the human person breaks down and people are reduced to mere cogs in an utterly dehumanising system. It is not an easy watch but worth seeing.
Chris Hughes is a parish priest at St Cuthbert's and St Joseph's, North Shields in the Diocese of Hexham and Newcastle. He is also head of their Diocesan Justice and Peace department and is on the Leadership Team of Tyne and Wear Citizens.
'Sorry We Missed You' directed by Ken Loach, is on general release from 1 November. Certificate 15. The film does contain very strong language and some violence.
Watch a trailer for Sorry We Missed You: www.youtube.com/watch?v=ysjwg-MnZao
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