Breakfast With Screenwriter Paul Laverty: On Ken Loach's The Angels' Share and Margaret Thatcher

Even at 9 a.m., you want a whiskey when you're talking about Ken Loach's new movie The Angels' Share, screenplay by Paul Laverty, especially as you want to brace yourself for the political and economic realities of this master storyteller's work. Meeting Paul Laverty at the Nomad Hotel over a latte and chocolate croissant, I have to tell this lawyer turned writer in no uncertain terms that one of his collaborations with director Ken Loach, The Wind that Shakes the Barley, is on my list for best movie I wish never to see again. It was that powerful, that good, and that disturbing. And so I greeted the new film, about a young man from a difficult, violent background who attempts to rise above his circumstances when everyone around him is pulling him back down, with fear that Loach would do it to me again: that is, have me rooting for The Angels' Share's protagonist, a young guy named Robbie (Paul Brannigan) who tries to make good and discovers he has a real nose for fine aged whiskey, only to disappoint me with an unremittingly sad end. I was not prepared to be so pleasantly surprised with The Angels' Share's generous humanity.

Q. When I blurt all this out, Paul Laverty's reaction surprises me: When he wrote The Wind that Shakes the Barley, about the consequences of political idealism in Ireland, the violence affected him the same way.

A. It is important to understand violence and its consequences. My influence was my experience in Nicaragua as a civil rights lawyer. Soldiers there were trained by the CIA to kill the Contra. People were ruined by what they had done. Same in Ireland, these ideals that we are fighting for, are they worth it? A man will shoot someone he has known since he was a child. He knows he has crossed the line. Every time I see that scene in The Wind that Shakes the Barley, it breaks my heart. Violence is cheap and easy when you don't see the consequences.

Q. But Robbie in The Angels' Share has been put in detention for a violent act. His is not an idealistic world, but a socioeconomic ghetto. What he wants most in the world is to have a job. Why did you want to write or make a film about that?

A.The real actor was in prison. Here people have a gun problem. In Glasgow they have a knife problem. On Friday nights, gangs clash. When I was doing my research, I met Paul Brannigan. He was such a nice kid who had committed an act of violence. He had a look about him. You could see he was smart. And he was a leader. He never acted in his life. We wanted someone with his fragility. In many ways his life is much tougher than the character's. These are kids who are not going to find jobs anywhere. Eventually I wrote the script and wanted to find this boy. We made several meetings and he never showed up. I was calling him from where I lived in Madrid. I finally got him and said, for Chrissake if you don't show up I'm going to... He carries the film beautifully.

Q. In the film, when Robbie is in detention, he joins with three other hooligans in what comes to be a hilarious heist involving a rare keg of whiskey. As their leader, Robbie gains confidence and learns what he is good at. But you can see that gangs will threaten if he stays in that community. Aside from telling a feel-good story, were you also trying to make a political statement?

A. We were trying to show the damage of generations of unemployment. Violence comes from broken places. It's strange that Margaret Thatcher should pass away this week. I will quote from Thatcher: "There's no such thing as society." It's the exact opposite. Her policies led to generations of people unable to have work. In the end, what does Robbie want? A real job and proper training. The other three won't get a job. Robbie is different. He thinks, if I stay like this, my life will be a disaster and I don't want this for my child. So the film has a happy ending for him, and probably not for the other three, who are like a new generation of young people in Britain who will face an empty future.

And with that, Paul Laverty was off to another interview, the next one: about Margaret Thatcher.

A version of this post also appears on Gossip Central.