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Storyline (warning: spoilers)
I’ll never forget the pleading that goes on in Sorry We Missed You. It’s desperate but futile. Life goes on, they say. So does the global marketplace. If you order a shower curtain or diapers or a new phone, you probably need it yesterday. Ken Loach’s brutally moving agitprop drama demands a thought be spared for the anonymous souls who drop this stuff off. That shower curtain might be the death of them.
Ricky Turner has done blue-collar labour all his life. Now he’s through with bosses breathing down his neck, so he takes a job as an owner-driver for a third-party delivery company out of Newcastle in northern England. (The title refers to those door tags you get when a package needs a signature and you’re not home.) Gig-economy freedom appeals to him. But anybody watching Ricky natter on about blissful independence can already sense the bad news rising — maybe even before his new not-boss, a big bruiser named Maloney tells him, “Like everything around here, it’s your choice.”
First of all, Ricky has no van to transport the parcels. A new one costs about $18,000, and he doesn’t have that kind of money. He strong-arms his wife Abby, into selling the family car that she also depends on for her own job taking care of the disabled, elderly and infirm. Abby’s employment becomes as central to the drama as Ricky’s. With the car sold, she has to take the bus, and like her husband, she works for a subcontractor that has no evident concern for her humanity, let alone that of the clients whom she treats with maximal warmth and heroic empathy. She works long, difficult hours and manages her family and her clients on the fly.
When the movie’s over, you have, indeed, witnessed a tragedy, just not the usual kind. Nobody dies or goes to prison. But life: that’s the tragedy, what it takes to get by, what it takes to be just a little bit happy — for one lousy meal. The stakes of the film are simultaneously huge and small. The Turners don’t need much. Some stability; a steady income; but the most precious thing they have is each other. But there’s no time for that because then there’d be no money.