Yesterday I finally caught up with Ken Loach’s latest film, ‘Sorry We Missed You,’ the story of the grinding down of a family by a heartless system. Ricky Turner is fully signed-up to the work ethic, has never claimed the dole and has done a variety of manual jobs; he is clearly prepared to work hard so he and his family can have a home of their own rather than living in scrappy rented accommodation. At first the job sounds great; being your own boss, working when you want, delivering parcels with the opportunity to earn upwards of a thousand pounds a week. But the down-side doesn’t take long to emerge – and it keeps emerging. Theoretically self-employed, the drivers have to either supply their own vans or hire one from the company at an exorbitant daily cost. Not only that but if they take a day off (for no matter what reason) they are responsible for finding a relief driver. That’s just day one – and it keeps ramping up from there.
At first Ricky sucks it up and works hard, tramping up and down the stairwells of flats with broken lifts, braving dogs to deposit parcels in sheds and having to fight customers to present the ID they are legally obliged to show before handing over valuable items. At the bottom of all this is the fear that if anything goes wrong, the driver is held responsible. If the parcel is not delivered, if it’s lost, if it’s broken, if they can’t find anyone to take it – they’re responsible. Not only that but they are tracked every second of their day and have no time for breaks; before Ricky sets off for his first journey a colleague tosses him a plastic bottle. ‘No thanks,’ he says, ‘I’ve got me own.’
It’s not fer drinkin’, says the other, ‘it’s fer pissin’ in. Yer don’t have time ter stop.’
The remorseless wheels continue to grind Ricky and his family into the dust. His son is arrested for shoplifting and he has to take time off to go down to the police station; his wife spends so much time rushing between care jobs that she has no time to look after her own children and the family almost implodes under the pressure but their love for each other stands in stark contrast to the inhumanity of the system. But life just keeps grinding them down and one day, having a pee in his bottle, Ricky gets beaten up and his digital pad smashed. While waiting to be seen at the hospital he learns that he will be fined £1000 for the ‘loss’ of his gadget. Next day, still not having been seen by a doctor (there was a 3-hour wait) he drives off to another day at work, nearly crashes the van, keeps driving. Tears run down his face. King Lear was not more tragic. This miserable abuse is happening now and it needs to stop.
At the opposite end of the spectrum is ‘The Crown,’ (or if you want to pronounce it prawperly, the Crine) an excellent new series starring Olivia Coleman as her maj. If you haven’t heard about this I can only assume you’ve been living at the bottom of the sea for the last month or so because it’s been trailed and reviewed to within an inch of its life.
First there’s the terrific casting: apart from the excellent Coleman Helena Bonham-Carter plays Princess Margaret wonderfully, Jason Watkins is Harold Wilson to the life, Tobias Menzies is terrific as Prince Philip, there’s a surprise appearance by Jane Lapotaire as Philip’s eccentric Greek mother and you’d swear Erin Doherty actually was Princess Anne. Then there’s the pace: some people have complained that The Crown is too slow but I find it perfect. Modern drama is like fast food, gone before you know it and digested so quickly that before you’ve gone to bed you’ve already forgotten what it was you ate, but The Crown stays with you like a long, slow meal; you dine on it and then sit back with a smile to digest.
And then there’s the nostalgia; I remember just about everything from this series, from Wilson’s premiership (and most of his cabinet) to the Aberfan disaster and, this week, the groundbreaking royal documentary which failed to convince the British public and press that the Royals were good value for money and should, as Philip suggested, be given a pay rise.
So I’d recommend both. Watch them in any order and see what an unequal society we live in.