The doyen of Britain's social realists, Ken Loach is not noted as a maker of comedies.

But from Brian Glover channelling Bobby Charlton in the soccer game in Kes, to builder's labourer Ricky Tomlinson getting caught taking a bath in a show home in Riff-Raff, Loach has always managed to punctuate his intimate dramas of desperate lives with scenes of rib-aching humour.

His newest film has as many laughs as any of the previous two dozen though the first hour has some scenes of pretty grim violence. too. Its target is Robbie (Brannigan), who's trying to go straight after a young life of petty crime, because he's about to become a father, a prospect regarded none too favourably by his girlfriend's thuggish uncles.

Tellingly, Loach doesn't sentimentalise his hero - in one of the film's early, gruelling scenes, he (and we) come face to face with one of the victims of his drink-and-drug-fuelled rages - but we are allowed to see that there is both a good man and a frightened boy underneath the street-hardened exterior.


On his community service programme, Robbie comes under the wing of the supervisor (the rough-hewn Henshaw lends the Loach archetype of the decent social service worker a compelling individuality), who takes him and his mates on a distillery visit as an incentive to behave themselves.

The ease with which a young hood like Robbie becomes a connoisseur of fine single malts may strain plausibility, particularly in the light of what he says after the first sip. And the audacious scheme the quartet hatches to get rich off a cask of whisky is a little improbable as well.

But it's all effortlessly carried off thanks to the charm of the four adventurers, and in particular the myopic Maitland as the hilariously gormless Albert. Loach famously casts off the street - Brannigan was trying to leave his troubled past behind by working in a youth centre when Loach auditioned him and Maitland, who was also in the director's Sweet Sixteen, still works as a rubbish collector - and their background lends their performances a ringing authenticity.

The film's name, which refers to the proportion of a cask of whisky that evaporates during barrel maturation, is a bit of a hint as to what happens and it's a testament to the staunchness of Loach's principles that he sees no problem in it. In Britain, he says, the number of unemployed under 25 topped a million last year. Against that background, a bit of nicked liquor is neither here nor there.

Stars: 4/5
Cast: Paul Brannigan, John Henshaw, Gary Maitland
Director: Ken Loach
Running time: 97 mins
Rating: R16 (violence and offensive language)
Verdict: Heartfelt and often funny story of a street hood making good.