Regular visitors will be expecting this entry to focus on another bottle I’ve put aside for a rainy day, but nah, we’re talking about The Angels’ Share the motion picture, which was released this weekend. I’ve been looking forward to checking this out ever since Balbair was used as a location last summer and director Ken Loach (Looking for Eric, Kes) was behind the camera. Yes, regulars, this is a film about Scotland and a special single malt.
The tale unfolds in Glasgow, where we join a court in session as various individuals are given community service for a variety of public law order offences. Having spent a great deal of time in Glasgow I can confirm that these sorts of individuals do exist and the Donald Dewar statue is a magnet for some. The central character is a wee rascal by the name of Robbie (Paul Brannigan), who is stuck in a vicious circle; born into poverty, crime, violence and hardship he is unable to break free. Facial scars display his familiarity with violence, previous drug abuse, and the ongoing feud with a gang that has put him in the dock. Soon to be a father, the lawyer uses this to avoid prison although the judge makes it clear that next time, Robbie will be going down. There are other conflicts, even within his family circle that add to the pressure to break free, find a job and avoid further conflict.
The leader of the community service team is Harry, played wonderfully by John Henshaw, who is one of the few recognisable faces in this cast of unknowns. This Englishman seems to be living in exile in Scotland, Ken only offers brief glimpses into his background but clearly he is a kind soul that takes this unruly, ramshackle bunch of young offenders to heart. Harry’s own love is for whisky and upon opening a special bottle (Springbank 32yr old) to celebrate the birth of Robbie’s son, a talent is awoken within the scoundrel.
Harry takes the core group out on a trip to a distillery, where viewers are also given a brief introduction into how whisky is made. While this is beneath most whisky enthusiasts I found it good enough and it removed some of the mystery of whisky making. A tasting session in Edinburgh soon follows, where Robbie’s talent for whisky is spotted by a collector. A series of events then leads the 4 mainstays up north towards Balblair Distillery to snatch the contents of a mythical £1million (ten out of ten) cask. The cask in question is not a Balbair, in fact its how it came to be in the distillery is a mystery, but it is the only remaining case from the silent distillery Malt Mill in existence; hence the rich collectors invited to bid on the cask. A road trip soon commences which takes our crew towards Sutherland and many local landmarks and roads that I recognised from my family visits up north.
The Angels’ Share is an enjoyable film, not only do we find ourselves rooting for these youngsters and their imaginative crime, but the film does an solid job of opening up the stuffy doors of whisky and its delights. When the plot mentioned a tasting session in Edinburgh, I had visions of retired chaps or tourists or cigar touting ‘exclusive’ club types that really put me off such things. However there is a spring of charm that runs throughout the film, while Ken could have put more emphasis on the social issues, poverty and a lost/trapped generation, Angels’ Share entertains and balances social insight, with humour, drama and whisky. This is a fine blend of various elements, one that should satisfy all.
If you have the opportunity to see the film then do so. For many foreign readers it might the nearest you get to visiting Scotland, although don’t be afraid! Subtitles might be an issue, as was Trainspotting many years ago now, but for locals it’s plain sailing.