Indeed, the final effect might be even bleaker – not far removed from the satire of Doctor Who or Black Mirror, except Loach and Laverty have no need of science-fiction gimmicks to make present-day Britain look like a dystopia.
The program of the film is laid out in the opening scene, when northern English everyman Ricky (Kris Hitchen) signs on for a job as a parcel delivery driver. With superficial friendliness, his supervisor Maloney (Ross Brewster) – presented, without apology, as an old-school villain – talks him through the jargon of the company. Ricky isn’t an employee but a franchisee and he isn’t being hired but “coming on board”.
We can see right away through the doubletalk and so, to some degree, can Ricky, who has minimal education and some anger issues but is far from a fool. Still, with few other options he seizes what appears to be a lifeline and from here it’s just a question of how quickly the trap will tighten.
Even so, for the first hour or so it’s possible to relax into the film and appreciate the flow of naturalistic detail Loach and his team use to win us over to their polemical purpose. Without any obvious heightening, the home of Ricky and his family gives a wholly credible picture of what a certain level of mundane poverty looks like: the cheap furniture, the rising damp, the framed family photos scattered forlornly about.
In other matters, Loach’s craft is similarly invisible, but there’s no lack of expertise in his balancing of comic and dramatic vignettes, his way of shifting between the perspectives of the various family members and his ability to evoke the daily grind of an awful job without letting the rhythms slacken.
Loach in this mode is frankly a “message” director and there are all the usual things to be said against such an approach: that his characters are counters first and people second, and that he rigs the game. But he does all this on a high level – meaning he cares about telling a compelling story and his work, even at its most schematic, retains some of the texture of life.