For anyone in Britain at the moment we all may have noticed that there is an election coming up. Now I didn’t want to get too political on this blog, for obvious reasons, mainly because this is a film blog and while I may review political films (and ultimately everyone swings one way or another) I equally don’t want to force feed anyone my personal views. That being said, I couldn’t help revisiting this film last night and was inspired to write a review about it.
I, Daniel Blake follows the story of two very different people in working class Newcastle. One of them is a single mother desperately seeking paid employment, the other, a man who medically cannot return to work but is forced by the state to continually apply for jobs he cannot accept.
For anyone who is interested in film they will know that this film is directed by Ken Loach, for my money Loach is a fantastic director. His ability to capture people at their most natural and visualise a realistic portrayal of them is almost unrivalled. Loach is a filmmaker who almost always has a political angle, here is no different. This is Loach making a ferocious attack on the current government and showing with real passion and heart that, unfortunately, this government has really let-down working class people.
Loach has decided to set the film in Newcastle, which is very relatable as I have family who still live there and when I have visited I can say he absolutely captures the spirit of the place. While these working class people are suffering, their grit and determination to help one another and soldier on is incredibly inspiring. What’s also important about this film is that it could be set practically anywhere in Britain and the same themes and emotions would be apparent.
Loaches direction is faultless here, as always, he draws out completely natural performances from his actors. He captures the sadness of working class Britain in the rain swept city streets whilst also (sometimes) keeping the camera relatively distant on the more emotional moments. We are almost documentary observers to the characters we follow, and sadly it provides the audience with an all to realistic portrayal of a broken Britain.
Assisting Loach with cinematography duties is Robbie Ryan, he is quite an accomplished DP and actually worked on Fish Tank, which is another first-rate independent British film. He is a welcome addition here and watching the behind the scenes footage on the film it is clear both he and Loach have a firm understanding of what they wanted to accomplish.
The script itself is written by Paul Laverty who similar to Robbie Ryan is a frequent collaborator with Loach. The writing is great here, he manages to craft a script that’s Hilarious, heart-breaking and uplifting. Laverty has spoken about doing a lot of research for the script and this is absolutely evident in the finished product, he complements Loaches natural direction wonderfully.
If Loach provides a vision to the film and Laverty a mouthpiece, then the actors are certainly the beating heart of the project.
There are two leads to this film and they are essentially our only “main” protagonists, first we have Dave Johns in the role of Daniel Blake.
Dave Johns doesn’t have many credits to his name, as is normally the case Loach has discovered a real talent. John`s performance is incredible, he has a lot of great material to work with and gets to really show all his emotions. He can present the warm and caring side to Daniel, feeling deeply about his new found friend Katie and her children, but also captures the anger and frustration of those stuck in a system that cannot reward and instead only punishes. As his neighbour China says “Dan, they’ll fuck you around, I’m warning you. Make it as miserable as possible. No accident. That’s the plan. I know dozens who have just given up”. Johns was recognised for his work and actually won Best Actor at the British Independent Film Awards. its invigorating to see his work get appreciated, its this kind of raw acting that’s really missing from a lot of films today.
Playing alongside Dave Johns is Hayley Squires, who again, is not an instantly recognisable face, but hits her performance out of the park. Squires is perfect casting here, this is an unglamorous role and she suits it perfectly. Its interesting watching a large Hollywood film and seeing single mothers who always say how rundown they are and how hard their lives are but still manage to live in beautiful houses with beautiful men. Well here is completely different, as the best Filmmakers will tell you “Show, don’t tell”. Squires has some great scenes here and most notably the food bank scene. A lot of critics spoke about this when the film premiered and watching it for myself, I can see why. It is truly remarkable, I wont spoil it but if it doesn’t bring a tear to your eye than you must have no heart.
I really love this film for its central friendship. Daniel wants to help Katie because that is what people who are in a desperate situation do, they pull together. Its refreshing to see two people who are of opposite genders cooperate without any romantic interest binding them.
The score for the film is extremely minimal, they actually talk about this in the special features, it was a creative decision so it didn’t manipulate the audience too much, which is a really smart move. The only song which wasn’t composed for the film that is used is called “Sailing By” which is used to emphasise Daniel`s wife’s state of mind before she passed away. The scene where he describes her last words to him equals the Food bank scene in terms of an emotional gut punch.
Jonathan Morris is the films editor and also deserves credit here, in the special features for the film he speaks about being allowed to play around with the positioning of some scenes due to the nature of which the film was shot. Along with Loach he has created a lean running time that stays pretty much bang on an hour and 40 minutes which is the perfect length. The film neither drags nor leaves you wanting more, it communicates exactly what it intends.
As I started this review I spoke about the political aspect of the film, while some people may not agree with Ken Loach and his political opinion, I don’t necessarily think that is important here. What has to be admired is Ken Loaches aggression and sadness toward a system that has let so many people down and it his dedication to producing films like this that really shines. Loach won his second Palme D`or for this film and gave a really galvanising speech when he received it, this can be seen on the Blu-ray special features.
There aren’t any limited editions available for the film. The Blu-ray has very few special features attached to it, however the feature that explores how the film was made is actually really interesting. It stands at just over half an hour and has some lovely moments in it, especially when they go through outfits with Dave Johns, the guy genuinely seems hilarious. You can pick the Blu-ray up quite cheaply here: