Take the High Road
British director Ken Loach heads to the Scottish Highlands with The Angels’ Share, an off-kilter comedy about a whisky heist.
Director Ken Loach
An icon of British cinema, director Ken Loach is known for his social-realist films about the beleaguered working class (The Wind That Shakes the Barley, My Name is Joe). Few expected an amiable caper like The Angels’ Share, named after the liquor that evaporates from barrels during a spirit’s maturation. This tale of redemption follows four Scottish delinquents as they attempt to steal a priceless last cask of Islay Malt Mill. Winner of Cannes’ 2012 Jury Prize, Loach’s appealing blend of Scotch lore and Highlands scenery opens stateside April 12.
WE: What prompted you to make a film about Scotch whisky?
KL: It’s principally about a group of kids who are part of the million young people with no prospect of work. [Screenwriter] Paul Laverty thought we should link them to whisky, which is part of the tourist tradition of Scotland, along with kilts, bagpipes and shortbread. One of lads has a very sensitive palate. So he and the group find a way of doing a victimless crime, which releases a little money.
These kids normally don’t drink whisky, because they can get a kick more cheaply from other drinks. There’s a famous drink called Buckfast, or Buckie—it’s a fortified wine originally made by monks in Buckfast Abbey in Devon. You can get drunk very quickly on it, I think. I haven’t done the research personally.
WE: Which of your characters do you most resemble: Robbie, with his exceptional nose? His clueless mates? His community-service supervisor, with his sincere passion for Scotch? Or the deep-pocketed collector?
KL: I think I’ll settle for Albert, the one who’s usually in the wrong and is trailing behind the others.
WE: Have you always been a fan of Scotch?
KL: I prefer a glass of wine, personally—a nice red Burgundy.
WE: What’s your favorite way to drink Scotch?
KL: With a little water, but not too much. And certainly not ice.
WE: There are 20 distilleries listed in the credits. Where did you shoot?
KL: We filmed at Glengoyne and Deanston for the distillery tour and Balblair for the robbery. We wanted somewhere off the main tourist beat. Balblair is a stunning location, tucked away in the north right by a loch. It looks remote, so management wouldn’t expect there to be a robbery. And it’s not a huge distillery, so it looked like a place where a barrel might be forgotten.
WE: You cast mainly unknown actors. Were there any celebrities from the Scotch world playing themselves?
KL: Charles MacLean, who plays the whisky writer Rory McAllister, is himself an expert on whisky. He’s doing in the film what he does in real life, which is holding tasting sessions, describing the characteristics of different whiskys. We just changed the name to give him the protection of anonymity.
WE: If you could be gifted one bottle of Scotch, what would it be?
KL: I’d have a small one from each of the distilleries who helped us. They were very congenial. Some gave us a bottle to be in the film. But there was no sponsorship, no product placement at all.
WE: What did you discover about Scotch that you didn’t already know?
KL: That sniffing is as good as tasting.