From left, Jasmin Riggins, Gary Maitland, Paul Brannigan and William...

From left, Jasmin Riggins, Gary Maitland, Paul Brannigan and William Ruane on the set of "The Angels' Share," directed by Ken Loach. Credit: Sixteen Films

"Uisge Beatha" -- aka whiskey -- is Scots Gaelic for "water of life," which is exactly what it turns out to be for the young, beleaguered Robbie (the debuting Paul Brannigan), a new father who wants a new life and finds it via a previously untapped genius for making high-end hooch. Booze is not usually the stuff of comedies, and comedies are usually not the stuff of Ken Loach, the veteran English director who is known for wonderfully wrought if often direly serious films about the downtrodden. Robbie is downtrodden -- he's in trouble with the law, and has a new son with a girlfriend (Siobhan Reilly) whose family wants to kill him. But "The Angels' Share" -- which refers, in literal terms, to the 2 percent of whiskey lost to evaporation -- is unexpectedly, and blithely, amusing.

In dire straits when we meet him, Robbie gets a break in court, where he's facing a charge of assault. But the judge sees that he may have been provoked and Robbie is put in the care of Harry (John Henshaw), a benevolent social worker, who in turn tosses his lot in with Thaddeus (Roger Allam), a whiskey enthusiast. Determined to set himself on a righteous path for the sake of his new son, Robbie finds a world in which following his nose may lead to a kind of highly distilled stardom.

The screenplay by Paul Laverty, who scripted Loach's "The Wind That Shakes the Barley" and "My Name Is Joe," among others, is delightful, and thank goodness the film is subtitled, because one would get tipsy trying to decipher the Scottish accents. Robbie's cohorts -- Rhino (William Ruane), Albert (Gary Maitland) and Mo (Jasmin Riggins) -- provide solid backup. And although the bittersweet "Angel's Share" may fit snugly on the comedy shelf, Loach's lifelong lefty-wing sentiments retain their heady bouquet: Charity and redemption are its underlying themes, even if its major intoxicant is humor.

PLOT Delinquent finds salvation via single malt. Unrated

CAST Paul Brannigan, John Henshaw, Roger Allam


BOTTOM LINE It's 100 proof comedy from the great Ken Loach.

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