By Adam Ray Palmer
Today’s review is of the realist melodrama I, Daniel Blake. This film has picked up a lot of acclaim since its Palm D’Or win in Cannes this year.
Veteran director Ken Loach and writer Paul Laverty are at the helm with a near-unknown cast made up of Dave Johns, Hayley Squires and Sharon Percy.
Independent cinema Phoenix Leicester was the apt location where I saw this tour-de-force picture…
Daniel Blake (Dave Johns) has worked as a joiner most of his life in Newcastle. Now, for the first time ever, he needs help from the State. He crosses paths with a single mother Katie (Hayley Squires) and her two young children, Daisy (Briana Shann) and Dylan (Dylan McKiernan). Katie's only chance to escape a one-roomed homeless hostel in London has been to accept a flat in a city she doesn't know, some 300 miles away in Newcastle. Daniel and Katie find themselves in no-man's land, caught on the breadline of welfare bureaucracy. It’s their mission to survive the harsh reality of benefit Britain today.
I, Daniel Blake pulls on your heartstrings from the off. We learn pretty quickly that Daniel has a heart condition, he’s not fit for work and needing to apply for benefits whilst living in a flat alone since his wife passed away. What strikes you in this opening 20 minutes is Blake’s torrid situation is scarily real. This could easily be a Channel 4 documentary.
The acting on show is second to none. Dave Johns in particular puts in a rousing performance with the perfect blend of determination and heartache. What he gets across in two hours makes you feel his whole life’s pain. Johns’ Blake is torn between being a good guy and the ‘good guy’ being screwed by the state. The laws weigh him down and his character’s, if anything, regression is tough to watch.
Katie is in a similar position. She has two dependents with no money coming in. Squires’ performance isn’t as haunting as Johns’, but she is a great supporting character to aid the film into greater depths. Katie and Daniel band together to make the best of what they have, even though they both know it’s clearly not enough. Katie turns to an escort career path and Blake ends up jobless and benefit-less. They help each other through difficult times which offers another, softer element to the film. It also depicts ‘the man’ against the state, or the ‘goodies’ taking on the ‘baddies.
Loach directs a movie that has a large narrative to cover. His filming techniques and experience in the movie business are ever present throughout I, Daniel Blake. The tender sequences are unbelievably touching. I heard a few murmurings and whimpers in the theatre during the emotional scenes. There’s no questioning Ken’s style, but the plot and messages are very hefty to carry in just two hours. I’m not saying this film is weak, far from it, but I think Ken takes on a lot to direct in the tight runtime. A few scenes seem rushed and we don’t get the wider picture at times like the job centre or even much of Katie's backstory. This would have made a great TV series.
I, Daniel Blake is marketed as not just a film, but kind of a movement. It’s a movie that has so much going for it, but also riding on it. It’s a very serious drama with hard-hitting issues throughout, and I hope it is listened to. Loach and Laverty have made a film that makes the audience fear of where the country is heading, and I guess that’s exactly what they wanted. Everyone should see I, Daniel Blake for obvious reasons, but also for the acting. We need to remember that this is first and foremost a film, and a very good one at that; but it’s also so much more.
Cineroom’s Rating: 4 Stars
I, Daniel Blake is screening at numerous UK cinemas before a DVD release early next year – certificate 15