11 December 2007 | bob the moo
Not perfect but relevant, topical and convincing
Fired from her job in a recruitment agency due to a public outburst while recruiting in Poland, Angie decides to set up an agency with flatmate Rose. Undercutting other agencies and working out the back garden of their local pub, Angie builds up business, mainly off the back of a large construction job that she supplies immigrant workers to. Paying cash, below minimum wage and irregularly, Angie and Rose start to build up a little nest egg at the expense of their "workforce" but how sustainable is a business built on exploitation?
It is no surprise that as I watched this film the UK was in the midst of an immigration "debate" (and by "debate" I mean "tabloid-led fuss") because we always seem to be in the middle of a fuss on the subject. So no prizes to Loach for being topical but prizes should go to the film because it is a worthy subject and a solid film. The story is mostly very convincing as it focuses on the daily business of making money with cheap temporary labour and the reality of life in that world. As such it is effortlessly engaging and benefits from us being more or less on the side of the main character Angie, who is only doing what everyone else is doing screwing down labour costs to maximise profit. From this point we start to get more and more into this world and find it to be just as terrible and exploitative as one would imagine, with blowback on everyone. The need for a narrative flow to the film ultimately means that it does exaggerate at some points to increase drama but mostly it works even if it far from uplifting stuff.
Of course those coming to a Ken Loach film cannot really claim to be surprised by this approach and nor should they be. His direction is excellent and he uses the streets, alleys and dingy flats of this world really well to keep true to the convincing dialogue from Laverty and the cast. I say the cast because I cannot imagine that it was this real on paper without the delivery. Wareing is wonderfully cast and she is instantly recognisable to anyone who knows the "cheeky sexy woman" who work as reps etc in the "real world". She works well alongside an equally good Ellis, who is less showy but no less real. Below them the cast are very convincing and I didn't see anyone "acting" at any point. This makes it easier to take all round because it mostly feels like we are just watching and not having Loach push our face into it.
As depressing and hopeless as this approach makes the subject, I did not feel it was anything other than fair. We all know that the world is built on money and that if it can be done cheaper, someone will try and do so regardless of the non-financial costs. This film paints a convincing picture that mostly avoids preaching and, aside from the dramatics towards the back end, it uses Angie as our eyes into a world that is exploiting, heartless and desperate. Not perfect but it is relevant and an important part of the debate on the real costs of immigration and capitalism.