By Ryan Keating-Lambert
Another politically relevant film released at the tail-end of last year. I, Daniel Blake is a sometimes brutally honest portrayal of working class Britain. A carefully paced narrative that really lets you sink your teeth into Blake’s life and struggle, and leaves you as a somewhat bittersweet anarchist ready to vandalise a local government building. Daniel Blake is a working class carpenter superhero.
Directed by Ken Loach (The Wind That Shakes The Barley, The Angels’ Share), known for his socialist realism brings us the story of Daniel Blake (Dave Johns), a middle-aged carpenter in Newcastle that after a sudden heart attack is deemed unfit for work by doctors. However, after some miscommunication and trivial form-filling, Blake is unable to claim government benefits. Feeling cheated by the system, he befriends young mother Katie (Hayley Squires) and her two children, whom are also having difficulties with the benefit system.
This is a film that’s very much hands on. You’re down in the dirt and grit with real people in real jobs, with real struggles. Loach has composed a requiem for the older generation of hard-working men and women, complete with some significant seeds of doubt as to where the state welfare system is heading. The narrative unfolds in a delicate way, piece by piece, and you’re never 100% sure where it’s going to end up. Even actress Hayley Squires didn’t know where her character would end up and was given her script in portions. This is probably why Squires fills the role with genuine uncertainty and such an overwhelming sense of anxiety. Like the recent Oscar nominee Manchester by the Sea, this is just so human and down-to-earth.
What starts off as something of a joke about the state welfare system, gradually descends into something more serious. You really feel for these characters and the frustration of dealing with the government clowns on the other side of the desk. Whether you’ve ever claimed benefits or not, you’ve surely had a similar kind of experience in a government office.
Hayley Squires was phenomenal as single mum Katie and has been internationally recognised and awarded on the festival circuit, not to mention having recently received a BAFTA nomination for Best Supporting Actress. Comedian turned actor Dave Johns was also fairly decent in the role of Blake, considering this is his first feature film, but Squires steals the show in the heavier scenes. Having seen Dave Johns in Prague last week at his stand-up comedy performance in Kino Svetozor, I can say that there’s a significant contrast between Daniel Blake and his comedy material. The man certainly has some range.
With the loom and doom of triggering Brexit, this film is an interesting parable of modern Britain and its still present class divide. Though some of the tense moments in I, Daniel Blake appear to be slightly exaggerated, I really wouldn’t be surprised. This film was also awarded the prestigious Palm d’Or prize at the Cannes Film Festival last year. Check it out in local Prague cinemas this weekend.