By Jason Michael

I, Daniel Blake: Nothing I can write here is going to do service to this outstanding piece of social history cum Palme d’Or winning cinema. It is art and film speaking truth to power, and from beginning to end it’s like the story of our – working class – lives.

Close to the bone comes nowhere near describing Ken Loach’s ‘I, Daniel Blake.’ Since its 21 October release I have read review after review. The trailer had me eager to see it months ago, but nothing could prepare me for the true, devastating and harrowing magnificence of this masterpiece. Already you can tell what “side” I’m on. Loach has rammed a wedge into the great divide of the cinema-going public; with the right-wing writing the film off as an over politicised and ideological exaggeration, and the left gushing like loved-up teenagers. I’m going to gush – that is, after I have wiped my eyes.

‘I, Daniel Blake’ follows the lives of the title character, Dan Blake (played by Dave Johns), Katie, and her two young kids Daisy and Dylan, as they undergo trial by benefit sanction at the hands of an impersonal, dehumanising, and overly bureaucratic Department of Work and Pensions in Newcastle. Dan is a widower who has been forced out of work after suffering a heart attack, and Katie and her children have been forced to relocate to the north from London due to the lack of housing closer to her family. The futility of their situations and their refusal to become powerless brings them together into a deep and enriching makeshift family, with Dan taking on the role of father and grandfather.

In spite of the pain infused into every scene, Dan’s gentleness, good humour, and razor sharp Geordie wit help oscillate the story between despair and comic relief. Dan’s true genius is that we’ve all met him before. He’s the soft-spoken, hardworking, working class man that lives on every housing estate the length of the country. Dan is that guy who looks out for everyone around him, and who – in the end – deserves so much better than what he’s given.

Katie, we’ve met before too. She’s the straight talking young single mum whose life is her kids, and who can never catch a break. Every lad who has ever been in her life has taken advantage of her good nature, and now she’s surviving by her wits. The well-dressed DWP staff members see nothing of this. She’s a statistic, a nuisance, a number, a chavette.

As the story develops the audience is drawn into an account of social structural violence that its both shocking and heart-breaking, with ordinary people – fallen on hard times – being abused by the system and left as prey for the most unscrupulous villains a burnt out community could produce. Still, the lines are constantly blurred between good and evil, law-abiding life and criminality. We’re given the crime of a woman stealing sanitary towels from a convenience store because no one donates them to the foodbank and the heartless evil of a store security guard you lures desperate women into the lowest end of the sex trade.

No more spoilers. I’ve seen this film before. Many of us have. In fact I have been Daniel Blake on more than one occastion, and I see Katie and her kids every single day. In all, it was close to the bone because it was like looking into a mirror – seeing through the eyes of the director the crappiest realities of being dependent on a state in a country where there just aren’t enough jobs. By the end of the film I was in tears. I was sobbing in the cinema and I wasn’t alone. No one moved from their seats until the lights came on, and even then people took their time shuffling out. Loach had scolded us for what we’ve let happen and hugged us by telling our story.


Author: Jason Michael (@Jeggit)

032 001



Please Share Your Thoughts

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s