I, Daniel Blake (2016) review: a passionate and gut-wrenching look at modern Britain



Director: Ken Loach   Writer: Paul Laverty (screenplay)

Stars: Dave Johns, Hayley Squires, Sharon Percy

Ken Loach has long been a fearsome and tireless campaigner for political change, giving a voice to those in society who might otherwise be overlooked, through films which merge drama and reality. When ‘I, Daniel Blake’ won the BAFTA for Outstanding British Film Loach took the opportunity to thank the Academy for endorsing the truth of the film “which hundreds and thousands of people in this country know, that the most vulnerable and poorest are treated by the Government with a callous brutality that is disgraceful”.  ‘I, Daniel Blake’ is the best kind of cinema, one that entertains but that could also enact social change.

Written by long-time collaborator Paul Laverty (The Wind that Shake the Barley, My Name is Joe), I, Daniel Blake focuses on the life of 59 year old Daniel. Daniel is a carpenter, living in Newcastle, who has recently had a series of heart problems that have meant his doctors have ordered him to stay off work. Having worked in manual labour his whole life Daniel find the transition difficult and finds himself having to rely on help from the State to see him through. The film follows Daniel in his battle to negotiate the welfare system and keep himself going.

Along his journey he meets up with Katie (Hayley Squires) a single mother to 2 children, who has had to move out of London when the benefit caps meant they could no longer afford to live anywhere other than a one bedroom homeless hostel. Wanting some space and freedom for her family (with her son displaying some worrying behaviours) she has taken the plunge and moved away from everything she knows to give her son and daughter a better quality of life. Now desperate to be able to go back to college Katie tries to keep up appearances for her children as her life slowly unravels.

Both Daniel and Katie find themselves at the mercy of a benefits system which seeks to meet arbitrary sanctions targets, driving them both beyond poverty and desperation and into very dark territory.  They form a kind of surrogate family and help support each other in their darkest times.

The film looks at the benefit system through the lens of a country which has been brain-washed by a media intent on propagating the idea of the deserving and undeserving poor and is unflinching in it’s portrayal of a system set up solely around numbers and absent of humanity.

As one of those hundreds and thousands of people who has seen the cruelty of the benefits system I can also testify to Loach’s truth here. I have seen first-hand the arbitrary decisions that are made in order to fulfil an imaginary quota of ‘undeserving’ poor which in turn leads to callous abandonment of those in our society who are the most vulnerable. The tale told here is not one that has been exaggerated for dramatic purpose; this is happening every day.

However, if politics isn’t your thing, ‘I, Daniel Blake’ is a masterful piece of film-making, as you would expect from someone of Loach’s standing. Despite the subject matter it never lectures, allowing the viewer to be caught up in the story at hand. It manages to balance warmth, humour and hope against the bleakest of backdrops and makes you truly care about Daniel, Katie and all those who have found themselves either trapped in or cast out by the system.

A rare mix of the passionate and human, the gut-wrenching and the comedic, ‘I, Daniel Blake’ is an absolute must see and one of the most important films of recent years.

9.5 out of 10

The case of the disappearing film rating; or Why I’m adding ratings to reviews again

Film, TV


What is my blog for? Who reads it? What do you want to know when I write about a film? What the hell do I know about films anyway?

Like many bloggers, and indeed writers in general, I have been grappling with the issue of why I write about films. Or more to the point, what you, the readers want from my reviews.

The eagle-eyed among you will have noticed that when I started out I didn’t give my reviews a score or grade, then started marking them out of five, then stopped again. More recently I have been dabbling with the school grade system, as being able to award plus or minuses to a grade seemed to give me more freedom. Why did I do it? What is going on?

Well, in short, I wasn’t really sure what I was rating. Was I rating as if I were a serious movie critic, rating the artistic merit of a film? Was I just letting you all know how much I enjoyed what I had watched? Or was I assessing it’s merits as a product, like grading the handling of a car or durability of a mop? Taking the ratings off seemed the simplest option to me, as then my words would, hopefully, get across what I wanted to say about the film, without reducing it down to a number.

The problem, I discovered, is people like numbers. “Yes, but what would you give it out of five?” came the comments on Facebook. People didn’t really seem to care what the five represented, they just wanted a number that could help them decide whether it was a film or TV show that was worth giving up their money and time for.

So, to satisfy the needs of people who just want to know whether to go and see a film or not, and to make me feel better about attaching an arbitrary grade to something, I have decided to do the following: give it a  grade out of ten. Yes, it’s reductive and annoying for anyone who had put their all into a creative piece, but it’s easy for readers.

Grades will broadly mean the following:

10- Practically perfect in every way, see it immediately

9- One extra shy of perfect

8- Solid and worthy of a trip to a real cinema

7- Entertaining, but wait for the blu-ray

6- Lacklustre, but has it’s moments so catch it on demand.

5- Wait until it’s on TV

4- Their mums probably still loved it

3- Their mums might still love them

2- Avoid like the plague

1- The plague was probably more pleasurable

I won’t be awarding zero as a score as ultimately someone, somewhere will have put their heart and soul into whatever is on the screen, even if it does turn out to be as awful as Only God Forgives.

I can then look at re-ordering my archived pages so I can group films by rating, making it easier for searching for something fun to watch.

Do let me know what you think of my new system, or indeed grading films in general.