Ken Loach’s Sorry We Missed You is a wrenching but humane drama about economic insecurity

For more than five decades, British director Ken Loach has explored broad political issues by way of small-scale, personal stories, with the plight of the U.K.'s working class at the top of his list of concerns. I'm tempted to say that no other filmmaker is more suited to the current state of world affairs, but I'm afraid his work has been and likely always will be relevant.

Loach's latest, Sorry We Missed You, is another grim march through the Sisyphean task of trying to get out of poverty, and it's in the same class as his Riff-Raff (1991), about the dangerous living and working conditions of a hardscrabble construction crew, or his Palme d'Or-winning I, Daniel Blake (2016), about an ill man fighting to receive medical benefits.

Here, his microscope lands on a middle-class married couple named Ricky (Kris Hitchen) and Abbie (Debbie Honeywood), who have two children. The film begins with them making a difficult trade-off: They'll sell Abbie's car so that Ricky can buy a van, which he'll need for his new job delivering packages for a major shipping company. Abbie, an in-home caregiver, will now rely on public transit to get from one client's house to another. They're both independent contractors, essentially, at the behest of corporations that expect them to work at superhuman speeds and yet offer none of the benefits of genuine employment.

Ricky's job proves to be a series of small indignities — bathroom breaks prevent him from meeting his quotas, so his colleagues give him a plastic bottle to piss in — and a few understandable slip-ups eventually prove irreversible. So there is something of a narrative arc, but it's less important than the small moments realized by Loach, his regular screenwriter Paul Laverty and his mostly unknown cast.

This is really a film about routine, about being economically unmoored, about social systems that operate under the guise of helping the disenfranchised while willfully leaving them behind. And yet it's also about the importance of empathy, and Loach finds tenderness and humor in between some staggeringly emotional lows. Sorry We Missed You is a downer, to be sure, but it's also a deeply humane film from a deeply humane filmmaker. Maybe that's what we need right now.

Is it worth streaming? It's an excellent film, but Loach's work is famously difficult, and this is no exception. As unemployment numbers skyrocket, Sorry We Missed You has become an even more startlingly timely story, and it's not likely to make you feel much more hopeful.

Sorry We Missed You is available as a digital rental through the Magic Lantern at ♦