We made this film about work because it’s one of the great untold stories of our times: how work has changed in terms of people’s security, the ability to earn a wage that you can bring a family up on and plan for the future. All those things people need just to live a decent life. That’s gone. The economy has changed. The power of the employers has got bigger and the power of the working class has got less.
That’s reflected in the details of work: casual work, agency work, zero hour contracts, poverty pay. So-called self-employed, where you have to exploit yourself and work all hours to get an income. All those things have contributed to making workers much more vulnerable. It puts huge pressure on people.
[My regular collaborator] Paul Laverty wrote the script and alighted on the parcel delivery role for the husband and father in the story, Ricky. We talked about carers as well, so that seemed a natural job for the mother and wife, Abbie. They are both out 12 hours a day and get paid for six, on minimum wages.
The consequences of this are reflected into family relationships. Paul did almost all the research and that’s one thing that people talked to us about a lot: that they had no time at all to see their kids. You see that in the film where Abbie is telling her teenage son Seb, played by Rhys, what to do over the phone and you know he won’t take a blind bit of notice. He’s out of control.
Rhys could really embody all the pains of growing up. His character is just at the point where he’s trying to be separate from his parents, particularly from his dad, and feels the need for conflict. Katie’s character Liza Jane is very contained and sensible, which makes you think she is very grown up. But then there’s a childish vulnerability as well. Katie got that, absolutely.
We went to a lot of schools in Newcastle and saw hundreds of kids just because you want to give everyone a go. You never know who you’re going to find. You just want people who are authentic and you believe who they are. And that their personality and background – where they’re from, what social class – also fit the story.
Martin Compston [star of Loach’s 2002 film Sweet Sixteen] showed the same thing we see in Rhys and Katie. When he’s playing a scene he looks people straight in the eye; he’s dead true. He isn’t acting in a false way. He’s absolutely true to who he is.
Rhys’s character is pessimistic about the future and I think he’s right. He’s a realist. Job insecurity is built into people’s experience now. Unless they are high-fliers academically, or are middle class kids insulated by the bank of mum and dad, the culture of the age is temporary, casual, job-to-job for working class kids.
This is the way the world is. All the film can do is show that. The question implied is: are we content with that? Do we need to change it, and how?
This isn’t the system working badly – this is the system working perfectly. This is how the free market operates. And if you want to change it, you’ve got to change the whole thing, root and branch.
The only way we can change things for the better in the UK is with a Labour government with a proper socialist agenda, which I think Jeremy Corbyn has. As long as big business calls the shots, then people will be stuck in this situation.
Sorry We Missed You is in cinemas from 1st November