Slàinte: The Angel's Share

Ever wondered what the ‘cup of kindness’ Robert Burns referred to was? You don’t have to dig too deep into your dialects to realize he’s toasting his lifelong kinship and brotherhood with a glass of fine amber gold, otherwise known as whisky. As far as lasting tributes to the great Scottish tradition, it’s hard to compete with the likes of Burns or even Iain Banks who wooed us to the great misty world of Scottish distilleries in ‘Raw Spirit’. But, Ken Loach has done a remarkable job with a low-budget but perfectly formed film. It will touch on all aspects of your humanity and most importantly, it makes a hero of great whisky.

For auld lang syne, my dear,
For auld land syne
We’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet
For auld lang syne.

I was lucky enough to grow up in a world where whisky, blended or single malt, was a regular part of every day life. But for young Robbie, the hero of this perfect Scottish folk tale, he’s already been to prison and become a father before he tastes whisky for the first time. But it’s love at first taste, quickly followed by an endearing and almost savant knack for tasting the stuff that offers a window of hope to Robbie’s otherwise bleak life.

The movie opens today and you ought not to miss it. Likened to ‘The Full Monty’, well-reviewed and commended at Cannes, this story is full of honesty, true Glaswegian spirit and doesn’t do too badly as an insight into the rich culture and fellowship found amongst whisky makers, drinkers and lovers the world over. And if you’re remotely, even slightly Scottish, it’ll make you feel proud, slighted and inspired with the dark grey, green and drizzly homeland from which this pervasive spirit has reached so many corners of the world.

First thing you’ll learn is everything else you can taste in whisky besides the malted barley. Robbie offers hope that the young and rascally still know how to use a library, not to mention read a book, all the while engaging the audience in a hopeful tension about his eventual redemption. He’s facing odds that would cause many to drink to ruin, but instead he drinks to fortune.

For local Auckland business, Sam Snead’s House of Whiskey, it’s an obvious alignment. Both Sam and Nigel (partners in the business) are passionate about their product and the stories that infiltrate the world of whisky. They’ve worked tirelessly to promote the film that first appeared in the New Zealand Film Festival earlier this year because it matches the growing audience of young people who are learning to appreciate good whisky. Week after week, Sam and Nigel host tasting sessions that are sold out, as well as running an open door at the shop in Courthouse Lane, where someone is always willing to have a yarn and discuss the finer points.

All this to say – I don’t want to ruin the plot, which is finely tuned with the nuances of life on the wrong side of the law, an appropriate blend of triumph and failure, hope and the pesky never-say-die attitude of the Scottish. Watch. Drink. Enjoy.

What do you think?