Bringing you honest reviews of recent releases
Dave Johns – Daniel Blake
Hayley Squires – Katie Morgan
Mick Laffey – Welfare Benefits Advisor
Sharon Percy – Sheila
Stephen Clegg – Job Centre Floor Manager
Julie Nicholson – Madam
Harriet Ghost – Appeal Receptionist
Kema Sikazwe – China
Steven Richens – Piper
Laura Jane Barnes-Martin – Call Centre Advisor
I haven’t seen a movie as honest as this in years. I, Daniel Blake hit me in a way I didn’t expect; I felt emotionally engaged and entertained for its entire duration. Everything from backing cast and set, to the one-liner’s, observant humour and the script itself absoltutely nailed it.
The movie examines how the British benefits system functions and the (sometimes tragic) consequences of being cut off from it, having to fend for yourself. And as an example, we see Mr. Blake as he endures some frustrating situations just so he can get enough money to live. I could feel myself smiling in recognition of particular situations playing out on screen; from Daniel being on hold to a call centre (and when eventually connected has to speak to a monotone, almost robotic person on the other end), to sitting in his local job centre and having to deal with an exceptionally difficult jobs advisor, it was all stuff I have personally dealt with in my own life. I could relate entirely to the chap on screen (incredibly) in every challenge he faced. This movie was turning out to be everything I never expected. It was a pure blend of funny and harrowing emotion which completely engulfed me for 99 minutes.
Something happened during I, Daniel Blake which happens very rarely:
I relaxed back into my seat, ignored my mobile phone, focused on the screen.
I was completely intoxicated by the film’s almost documentary-style format. The camerawork and setting are brilliant; almost like a singular cameraman is following Johns around, in and out of the job centre, etc. And the action happening inside.. just superb. The women who play benefit advisors – and even the security guards – are so natural that you’d think this movie really is a Channel 4 documentary or something. I also noticed the backing cast (extras) were just as authentic; simple people with no dialogue who just had to sit there – but made a massive impact.
Squires brings a fantastic energy to the movie as downtrodden single mother Katie. With a natural ‘london girl’ appearance (I.E. hoop earrings and thick mascara), she offers a good dose of comedy as well as drama. One minute she’s dropping slick and sarcastic one-liner’s (which had the audience laughing out loud), the next she’s faced with deadly drastic situation and the comedy is replaced with sadness and terror. Squires delivers a faultless, believable performance all the way through.
The scene where Katie and Daniel visit a local food bank with her children had me raising my hand to my mouth in utter shock. This scene is one of the most hard-hitting things I have seen in cinema in quite some time, it portrays total anguish and desperation in such a realistic situation. And it broke my heart. Fantastic stuff, I almost burst into tears.
The woman is just as strong a performer as Johns (in fact, possibly better than him) and when up against each other in more serious scenes the pair are dymamite. Top marks here for sheer talent.
This movie touches on the smallest gestures and highlights them for the viewer, again making identifiable scenes quite lifelike. For example, when Katie has no money left in her bank account to pay her electric bill: director Ken Loach ensures an atmosphere of desperation by laying bare the issue of not even being able to wash yourself because of having no hot water.
Whereas many other movies have a character who simply announces, “I’m skint” and then ditches him / her to focus on something else without explaining why, I, Daniel Blake strips the story bare. The story of a woman struggling so hard to take care of her children, that a complete stranger she has just met (Daniel) puts a crumpled twenty pound note in her hand and tells her to ‘top up the electric’.
And actions as small as Katie sat at her kitchen table eating an apple for her dinner because she gave the last of the food to her two kids makes a massive impact, theatrically. The atmosphere between characters is spot-on, making I, Daniel Blake the most poignant film I have seen in years.
Julie Nicholson (unknown to me) is in the movie for literally just under 1 minute. But the message her character portrays is shockingly accurate.
When Katie has nowhere else to turn financially, she pursues the only avenue left – prostitution.
Following an uneasy scene involving shoplifting then confrontation with a store security guard, Katie is seen entering a cozy little pub. With soft-lit lamps and peach coloured, old-fashioned decor the seedy scene is set.
The male at the table introduces her to a mistress. Who then befriends Katie instantly.
The way in which Nicholson plays it is fantastic; the woman is what I call ‘default friendly’ – a person who offers an friendly but icy, trustworthy attitude and clearly doesn’t mean it. Words of kindness spoken from behind cold eyes. And she delivers those classic phrases also; “your friend here tells me you’re having some troubles..”, “now, I can help you sweetheart, but you’ve got to trust me, okay? You’ll be alright..”, etc.
One trusting smile later and I was already shivering with conversance. I myself have met people like this in real life; mainly when in a vulernable sutuation – like being lost in an unfamiliar place. A complete stranger I have turned to for help like a police officer for example, whose first impression is scarily friendly. But they rope you in because there’s no one else who can help. This emotion was captured perfectly during this very short scene, proving less really is more as a comforting person with a dodgy job offer brought a false sense of security.
Top marks here.
Another scene sees Daniel visit his local job centre and attempt to complete an online application, which goes tits-up. Firstly, the benefit advisor’s instruction of “run the mouse up the screen” is responded to by Daniel picking up the mouse – pressing it against the computer screen – and sliding it up and down the plasma.
Absolutley hilarious, this moment got lots of laughs from the audience. And it was laced with some highly insightful sub-moments such as the keyboard keys sticking, the internet page itself whizzing straight to the bottom of the screen when clicked just once, and the Delete button not working properly. Things that happen to most of us in daily life, during various situations. Johns boosts the dynamic of this scene even more by delivering some very funny dialogue, which is more like improvisation than acting.
Top marks here also.
This was going well.
..but the biggest question on my lips was, “how?”. How was I, Daniel Blake so emotionally effective? And HOW did it keep me off my phone? (nothing does that, especially as switching on Grindr in the Canary Wharf area is like a trolley dash in a fucking candy store).
Surely something had to slip? There had to be a negative to the production?..
Very little went wrong with this movie.
But, if I could pull it up on one thing it would be the slower scenes. Due to I, Daniel Blake being filmed in a way which mirrors a documentary, some scenes are dragged out by the characters standing around idly or going about daily chores accompanied by silence. This adds a dash of dull and ensures a flat flow, whereas the rest of the movie is quite entertaining.
What an epic film. If you’ve had first-hand experience of the British benefits system like I have, I am sure you will empathise with the lead character. Everyday actions ring strikingly true throughout this film.
Like being on hold for hours to a company who – when you do eventually get through to – just don’t give a shit as they respond from script like monotone robots. I felt a huge sense of familiarity just watching this (especially with the awful hold music).
Visiting the Job Centre to ‘sign on’ and the vast distinction between the people sitting inside that centre and those in the outside working world.
Being so low on money that your situation genuinely becomes a fight for survival (and the cheapest bottle of supermarket milk).
Being in the hands of the government.
I, Daniel Blake is fucking SUPERB. The main message I took away from it was that we all need to make sure we treat ourselves well. I believe the phrase is, “look after number one”. Make sure you are sorted in every possible way (financial especially), before you devote your life to someone else.
Why is it always the loyal, hardworking people in life who get shit on from a great height? This is a question the film poses. Most people work their arses off, endure stressful experiences with the government, and then eventually they’re no longer here. These are main focus points of I, Daniel Blake and the overall production really hits home how we all need to make the most of the time we have on Earth.
I have not seen a film like this in years, and will definitely purchase it on DVD when it is released.