While social commentary is to be expected from director Ken Loach, the award winning I, Daniel Blake caused quite a stir in Parliament last week and it’s easy to see why.
In boldly following the journey of a man battling the benefits system in Britain, this film constructs a refreshing voice for the so-called “undesirables” in society; the benefit-seekers of whom the media is all too eager to label as “scroungers”.
The overriding narrative of the film screams with political undertones, illuminating the real distance between Westminster and those endeavouring to cope within the welfare state.Daniel Blake (Dave Johns) is a character symbolic of a generation which was not only alienated, but essentially left behind by the technological revolution. A carpenter made redundant by heart attack, he is computer illiterate. The film accompanies him through his plight to tackle the red-tape structure of the welfare system, in attempts to receive Jobseeker’s Allowance.
Johns’ performance is convincing throughout, despite minor segments where at times his scenes are somewhat reminiscent of a National Accident Helpline advert. The stand out performance comes from actor Hayley Squires portraying the young and impoverished single mother of two, Katie. Her character is used effectively to explore how poverty affects women and also parents, showcasing the extent of sacrifice those in poverty may be faced with, particularly in order to support their children. Squires’ performance is unapologetically devastating. Her scenes are the most poignant in the entire film.
Despite a tendency to be cliché or predictable, the film somehow manages to never undermine the struggle of its characters and is actually at its most effective during episodes of incredulity. The lack of extensive production sustains a sense of rawness that is present throughout the film.
From being filmed on location in the streets of Newcastle, a lingering and haunting sense of familiarity persists throughout, which instils the sense of reality in a film which is almost wholly based on incredulous hardship and unfair situations.
Additionally, the lack of colour and lack of soundtrack ensures that there are no distractions from the hard-hitting scenes which can be very difficult to watch.
Exuding an atmosphere of reality by drawing upon an aspect of British society which film makers often prefer to keep hidden makes the ridiculously unjust series of events more frustrating to witness unfold. When the credits rolled, no one in the theatre made any significant noise or movement.
This heavy silence lasted for almost a minute, as myself along with the rest of the audience steadily tried to recall that ignorant bliss we usually possess to forget the social inequalities that are rife within Britain.
But this film thrusts it violently into your consciousness, and its lasting effect is why it is rated so highly among critics. Take your tissues for this one.