A working-class British family starts to fall apart at the seams when parents Ricky (Kris Hitchen) and Abbie (Debbie Honeywood) begin to struggle more and more to keep financially afloat. The stress of long hours with basically zero benefits doesn’t leave time for them to actually be a family to their two children, rebellious teenager Seb (Rhys Stone) and his younger sister Liza Jane (Katie Proctor). Situations become worse and worse as Ricky and Abbie’s consuming jobs start to affect their children’s lives.
The film opens with Ricky being interviewed for a job at a third-party delivery company, listing off the wide variety of blue collar jobs he’s done to the tough-looking boss Maloney (Ross Brewster). Ricky immediately comes across as a no-nonsense hard-worker who just wants to provide for his family after suffering from the loss of a potential house and mortgage during the 2008 economic crash. Maloney, on the other hand, is definitely a man who takes his job too seriously. His long list of work jargon – ‘fees’ instead of wages; ‘onboarded’ instead of hired – and the holier-than-thou attitude he has towards Ricky when explaining how the little electronic box that zaps the parcels is the most important thing he will ever use in his life, clearly sets the tone for the rest of the film and Ricky’s journey. He is being pulled into a false sense of self-employment and promise of a rich future – but despite the attractive premise, Ricky is essentially being set-up for a life of being indebted to the company he’s now trapped in.
The hope that Ricky arrives home with is delivered with an edge of uneasiness. The audience can feel the unsteadiness of his job prospects, even with his actual employment, when he asks his wife to sell her car so he can afford a company van (another scheme of extortion coated with a false belief of ‘being your own boss’). Abbie needs her car for her long days of being an at-home carer for multiple people with physical disabilities. Without her own transport, her workday would become much more convoluted and difficult to manage with having to take the bus to and from these different homes. Despite this, they end up selling it so Ricky can have the van – he’s promised her and their two children that soon – in six months; a year; eventually – life will be easier for them if he just takes the risk and dives headfirst into this new job.
Sorry We Missed You does indeed deal with a contemporary political issue, but Loach focuses on the effects these issues have on the characters. Ricky and Abbie are the epitome of an average working-class family in Britain, and putting the spotlight on them and their children almost feels like the audience is allowed a sneaky insight into a real family. That feeling is enforced by Loach’s style of directing. He chooses inexperienced actors to portray the characters that live in a world that he has thoroughly investigated. Whilst it can be slightly jarring to hear the mistakes in the actors line delivery, it’s almost a necessity if Loach wants his specific style achieved. To have this type of issue portrayed on film can sweep the audience up into it if this level of realism is achieved.
Whilst the film opens and ends with Ricky, Abbie does have her share of screentime. Her empathy and nurturing nature is clearly taken advantage of by the people she works for. Abbie picks up as many shifts as possible on her zero-hour contract and works through her breaks without fuss, all so her ‘clients’ are taken care of. The clear distress and strain she often feels doesn’t get in the way of empathy and affection for her own children, despite the fact she can’t spend nearly enough time with them at home as she’s out at work; cooking meals for her clients yet unable to cook for her children at home as her work timetable just doesn’t allow it.
Ricky, too, is forced to work long hours in order to meet the delivery company’s quotas and fund his own familu. When his son’s school needs him and Abbie to attend a meeting to do with Seb’s behaviour, he is unable to attend because of the threat of a sanction and a fine. Even when Ricky is robbed, beaten, and humiliated whilst on the job, landing himself in hospital, all Maloney speaks of is the £1000 fine for the scanner that the robbers smashed; not to mention the cost of the passports amongst the other parcels stolen, and the cost of hiring a replacement driver for Ricky whilst he’s off. There is literally no time for family, no time to raise their children which desperately need them; if one day is spent off work to spend time with family, the next day means no money to feed them. It’s viscous and harsh to watch characters have an unhappy ending, an unhappy life, with no story arch that allows them that chance of hope or conclusion, but Loach understands that this is the reality of many.
You’re not allowed to forget this, either. Even during the blissful scenes of family unity – sharing a takeaway for tea when both parents are actually home during the evening; when Seb isn’t in trouble for shoplifting and Liza Jane isn’t wetting the bed from stress – Abbie still has to rush to a clients house to put them to bed when no other carers showed up to help them. Her maternal role is taken and applied to the people she cares for at her job, just as Ricky’s paternal role is taken away completely when he can’t even connect with his children anymore due to the fact he can’t afford to not work. Even just one day off to help his son get back on track would mean Ricky becomes even more indebted to the company he works for, ruining his children’s future prospects if he can’t afford to sustain them. The children need that emotional and mental support from their parents, but without the financial support there would be no hope for that at all. The cycle is constant, and painful, and there’s no chance escaping it. Thanks to Loach, we as the viewer can understand this, although understanding a problem this large doesn’t help to fix it.