As soon as I saw the trailer for this film, I knew I wanted to see it. I was weeping at the few clips witnessed so I knew I wouldn’t exit the cinema dry eyed. I wasn’t the only one. However, I do think I was the only one who had to be asked if I was okay. I wasn’t.
I, Daniel Blake follows the story of, guess who, Daniel Blake, who is played by Dave Johns. An elderly gentleman, who has lost his wife and recently suffered from a heart attack, has been told he cannot work. His struggle with the welfare system and his relationship with a young mother (Hayley Squires) and her children (Briana Shann and Dylan McKiernan) carry the story. I found it a beautifully touching tale that shows the people behind benefits.
Combining Ken Loach’s direction and Paul Laverty’s script, this film is beautifully executed. I found the opening of the film very smart. The titles were able to roll, uninterrupted by visuals, as we heard dialogue between our main character and his interviewer. This made us really focus on what was being said. Furthermore, I find it incredibly inspiring that the viewer is able to know, understand and connect with the character before we even see him. I think this easily shows how experienced Ken Loach is.
The long, continuous shots present in many areas of the film make it seem incredibly realistic. There were also points – for example, the scene in the food bank – where moments seemed improvised. It felt like Loach looked for real food bank volunteers and simply asked to film. My boyfriend said he felt the same way when watching the scene of Daniel Blake writing the vandalised title I, Daniel Blake. He found the crowd’s reaction genuine. However, I don’t know if our hunches are correct as there are no clues on the web.
There is a statement on IMDb which explains that Squires (the main female role) was not given the complete script at any point during filming. She was merely given snippets during the process. Therefore she never knew what would happen next since the film was completely shot in chronological order. I think this is an interesting angle to choose but I fail to see the purpose. It seems, to me, more of a disadvantage on her part than to help her acting. But don’t get me wrong, I found every acting performance spot on.
I personally found the entire film touching, hard hitting and heartbreaking. From Daniel Blake’s first line of dialogue, I knew he was perfect. Flawed, endearing, rebellious, he was an incredibly believable character. His age made his character humorous yet frustrating – but in a good way. The fact he cannot work modern technology shows the failures within the welfare system and the struggles older members of society face. I felt frustrated for the character during the process of the story so it seemed obvious to me that Laverty succeeded in his writing.
The same goes for Katie – the frustrated, caring, pushed to her limits, mother of two. Unlike Daniel, she has to put her children first and do unspeakable things in order to keep them healthy and happy. It was her struggles that were the most shocking to me as I feel any mother would do the same.
Overall, I feel the film shows both the good and the bad in the main characters, showing the stereotypes of those seeking benefits but also explaining why they act that way is what makes the film so rounded and fair.
However, just 10 minutes into the showing, my boyfriend whispers into my ear, “I don’t like this.” I sat puzzled at his statement since my heartstrings were continuously being pulled. What was not to like?
After leaving the cinema, he told me he did not like the way the workers in the welfare system were represented. He told me that the mean, rude dementor of the workers were to benefit the film’s message and did not show that it was not their fault for the system failing. They had abuse thrown at them simply because they are the face of the company when they are not responsible for what happens to their clients.
I understood what he meant but I had to disagree. The workers were only to symbolise the bigger picture. Every film needs a villain, a force of evil, and, sadly for workers at the welfare system, that was them. I felt this bias was justified since Laverty included a nice worker into the mix. She did her best to help Daniel but was told to stop. I felt this showed the struggles these workers go through. They want to help these people but they’re told this isn’t company policy.
Although I disagree with him, I do completely understand since, at times, it felt like charades were overly rude. Maybe I’ve simply been blessed with nice people all my life but I fail to believe every person Daniel Blake came into contact with made his life a misery and was swearing awful to him.
However, I still found the opposing forces believeable and justifiable.
And if it inspires you to do some good or need some good done to you, check out the Trussell Trust here: https://www.trusselltrust.org/
And remember we are all citizens, nothing less and nothing more.
Thank you for reading! Let me know your opinion in the comments below or tweet me at @freetheleaves