Review: Sorry We Missed You Sounds a Clarion Call for Worker’s Rights

It’s difficult to imagine a more socially engaged or powerful condemnation of the exploitative gig economy than Ken Loach’s latest.

Sorry We Missed You
Photo: Zeitgeist Films

It’s difficult to imagine a more socially engaged or powerful condemnation of the exploitative gig economy than Ken Loach’s Sorry We Missed You, which places the viewer on the ground with an English family trudging through the muck left behind by the erosion of workers’ rights in Europe. Here, the supposed economy of free choice promulgated by neoliberal policies manifests as a domestic realm in which one’s job penetrates into every waking moment, leaving stressed bodies and minds with no time and little wherewithal for a personal life or obligations. Global forces control the fate of the family at the story’s center, in ways not immediately apparent on the individual or family level. As Ricky (Kris Hitchen) plaintively puts it late in the film, “It just seems to me that everything is out of wack.”

The fulcrum on which Ricky’s life teeters is the small black scanner he carries with him as a delivery person for a private parcel service. The all-powerful scanner tracks the packages he rushes to destinations around his former mining town, as well as Ricky himself, keeping him synchronized to a precise delivery schedule that he can be punished severely for falling behind on. The black box itself also constitutes a symbol of his extreme employment precarity, as the company he works for (the fictional PDF) supplies him with one of the expensive machines, and he would be on the hook for a thousand pounds if it were to be broken or lost.


Through the device of the scanner, Loach and screenwriter Paul Laverty no doubt intentionally evoke the bicycle from Vittorio De Sica’s Bicycle Thieves. They revealingly suggest that the gig economy promises little more but a return to pre-prosperity conditions for Europe’s working class, sold under the pretense of expanded autonomy and opportunity. Though Ricky answers both to the black box and Maloney (Ross Brewster), an imposing, unforgiving boss, he ostensibly serves as a “franchisee,” the owner of his own business and master of his own destiny—the overt scam by which large companies like Uber circumvent labor laws and outsource the costs of operation to their employees (sorry, “independent contractors”).

Sorry We Missed you opens with Maloney explaining the job in such terms to Ricky, but, piece by piece, the film rends apart the image constructed by Maloney’s con-man pitch. In Loach’s unadorned, social-realist style, we see Ricky’s life begin to crumble as anxieties mount: the behavioral issues of his teenage son, Seb (Rhys Stone), are exacerbated by Ricky’s increased hours away from home; his daughter, Liza (Katie Proctor), still a tender 11 years old, suppresses the trauma of the family’s increasingly tension-filled lives; and Ricky is progressively alienated from his beloved wife, Abbie (Debbie Honeywood), whose perpetual self-sacrifice at work and home seems to be for naught. The six-day-a-week job Ricky needs to survive proves lacking in any of the flexibility that would allow him to address these compounding family crises and any of the protections that would facilitate recovery from his work-borne fatigue and the acts of God that eventually beset him.


The viewer accompanies Ricky on his deliveries, showing the day-to-day difficulties a courier copes with in dealing with a broad range of individuals caught up in their own world and oblivious to his. But Loach also devotes stretches of the film to other members of the family; most prominently, the film speaks to the current labor market’s degradation of human dignity through Abbie’s struggle to work while keeping her family together, stable, and healthy. Abbie cares for elderly hospice patients, making in-home visits to keep them company and assist them in moving, eating, and using the restroom—for which she’s paid a mere pittance and, like Ricky, must contend with a dehumanizing management that perpetually pushes her work hours into her family time. Through Abbie’s conversations with Mollie (Heather Wood), one of her patients and a former labor organizer, that Loach and Laverty deliver the reminder that the battles that need to be fought today have been waged before—and won.

The characters, each wearied by the constant stress of this economy, are played with an understated realism that’s startling in the context of the typical melodrama through which poverty and social crises are usually addressed. To Loach, social problems cannot be distilled into melodrama’s abstractions, as the dignity in labor and life slipping out of the characters’ worlds stems from their material conditions, not from inner psychological states or idealist values. One could describe Loach’s depiction of the disintegration of this working-class family unit as emotionally devastating—and it absolutely is—but to leave it there would be to miss the point. Sorry We Missed You sounds a clarion call, an enraged outcry for action against the morally bankrupt forces that have robbed the working classes of their hard-won rights.

 Cast: Kris Hitchen, Debbie Honeywood, Rhys Stone, Katie Proctor, Ross Brewster, Heather Wood, Charlie Richmond  Director: Ken Loach  Screenwriter: Paul Laverty  Distributor: Zeitgeist Films and Kino Lorber  Running Time: 101 min  Rating: NR  Year: 2019  Buy: Video

Pat Brown

Pat Brown teaches Film Studies and American Studies in Germany. His writing on film and media has appeared in various scholarly journals and critical anthologies.

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