I’ve always loved cinemas. I’m drawn to them. They are places of comfort. It stems from an early age. I much prefer the old picture palaces over the current industrial prefabs, but any cinema will still pull upon my soul and drag me in. Whenever I’m in a new town I ‘have’ to find out what cinemas still operate or still stand. I am part way through a photographic study of surviving Picture Palaces, be they still in use as cinemas or not. They are my cathedrals.
‘Kes’ was the first film I ever saw, at a cinema, as an unaccompanied child. The cinema was The Essoldo, on King William Street, in Blackburn, long before it was split up into several, smaller, screens.
I’m sorry Ken but I owe you the cost of the ticket as I snuck in through the fire exit.
My parents had noted my interest in animals and had encouraged this, believing that it was important in the development of empathy. They would take me to see films like ‘Born Free’, which I loved. In addition, we made visits to the library to borrow books on nature.
In 1969 a film called ‘Kes’ arrived at the aforementioned cinema. I had seen a copy of a book, upon which it was based, called ‘A Kestrel For Knave’, about a young lad hand rearing a bird of prey. Naturally, I was attracted to this particular film because of its subject matter. Sadly, on this occasion, my parents could not afford to take me but I was desperate to see it. I had heard stories about how easy it was to get into the Essoldo via a back door and, as luck would have it, said stories were true.
Yes, I know – perhaps it wasn’t lessons in empathy that I needed but rather a Casper style caning and a stern lecture on why sneaking into a cinema isn’t a victimless crime.
‘Kes’ made a huge impression upon me for it was the first time that I saw, and heard, people like myself upon the cinema screen. ‘Born Free’ and films of that type all featured people from another class, who spoke ‘posh’ not ‘common’. The characters that populated ‘Kes’ attended schools similar to mine, lived in places I recognised, they spoke like me, like my friends, like my parents. I could identify with them.
47 years later, on a Sunday afternoon, I find myself in a London cinema attending a screening of the latest film, by the director of ‘Kes’, Ken Loach and written by Paul Laverty called ‘I, Daniel Blake’.
I ‘did’ purchase my tickets this time Ken.
Before I talk about the film itself I want to share with you what the atmosphere felt like in the cinema after the film had ended. Usually, when a film ends, people are keen to get away and rarely stay to see the end credits. There are buses or tube trains to catch or visits to the bar or toilet to be made.
It wasn’t to be in this case. No one moved away from their seats as the end credits rolled. The theatre lights went up and fell upon the audience exposing an emotional involvement, that could no longer be hidden by the darkness, the lengthy end credits hadn’t been of sufficient time to allow people to compose themselves.
The silence was broken by embarrassed shuffling as tears were either suppressed or in full flow. Heads were held downwards, few wanted to make eye contact. It seemed as if no one wanted to be the one to make the first move and leave their seat. Thankfully, the exit doors were opened by a cinema attendant wanting to clear the auditorium for the next screening and people took this as licence to exit.
No one spoke as they did so.
When did a film last do that? When did you last cry at a film, unable to stop yourself?
On the technical side I am fascinated that Loach, and cinematographer Robbie Ryan, shot ‘I, Daniel Blake’ on 35mm film, via Arricam ST cameras, using Zeiss Master Prime Lenses. In this day and age of digital appropriation one would have thought that Loach might have been tempted to use the digital medium and the freedoms that might afford, especially given the use of amateur actors. It is testament to his skills and his confidence, both in his own abilities and that of his cast and crew, that Loach stuck with film. In doing so ‘I, Daniel Blake’ has the feel of ‘Kes’ and that is a wonderful thing. Like ‘Kes’, the film has a ‘texture’ that adds to the aesthetic nature of the experience.
Loach has struck gold with his two leads. They have terrific chemistry, keeping you fixed upon them. You identify with them. You want to know them. They break your heart.
DAVE JOHNS, a stand up comic and actor, plays Daniel. A down to earth, lovable, caring chap of whom we all know at least one. In fact, he reminded me of my late father. A man who was far more intelligent than the qualifications he lacked and had a heart far bigger than his meagre bank account. In addition to my love of films and reading, I owe much of my politics to that decent chap.
HAYLEY SQUIRES, an actress and playwright, takes the role of Katie. A homeless, single mother sent miles away from her community and children’s schools. A character whose eyes speak far louder than any of the words that come from her mouth. Squires performance is heartbreaking, real, raw and so bloody human.
It is to the credit of Loach as a filmmaker that he does not go for an easy target and demonised all who work at the DWP, rather instead showing that some go out of their way to try and help, but they are themselves crushed by the system. Such people are also victims of this government’s pernicious welfare policies.
Once upon a time, your local DWP office and Job Centre was a place where help and advice could be sought and it would be freely given, without threats, without sanctions. You would not be belittled, humiliated, demoralised.
Everything is now down to the ‘The Decision Maker’. An unseen overlord who would not be out of place in a dystopian science fiction movie.
I expect soon that the new monster in ‘Dr Who’ will be called ‘The Decision Maker’
‘Forget The Daleks! Forget The Master! The Doctor faces his greatest enemy. For he may be a Time Lord but this time he is up against The Decision Maker.’
People, especially with mental health concerns, are sanctioned simply for exhibiting the symptoms of their diagnosis. Indeed, it seems that the system is designed to ensure said symptoms present themselves so that they can be used against the claimant to terminate a discussion or even a claim.
It is hard not to become emotionally involved in the viewing of ‘I Daniel Blake’ and hence so it is that, due to personal experiences, it is hard to review the film completely detached. Especially when you have experienced some of what happens upon the screen. The inevitable, forewarned, outcomes may seem dramatic cliché to those who either haven’t experienced them, or simply have an ideological reason to push them as cliché in an attempt to undermine them, but they are damn real to those who have experienced them or know those who have.
As one who is both disabled and a carer, and who has volunteered helping people who find themselves in a similar position to the films main characters, I can testify to the accuracy of how the system is depicted within ‘I, Daniel Blake’. I can confirm the feelings of frustration felt at simply trying to get yourself heard, to feel listened to when dealing with the DWP process. Likewise, I can unashamedly state that I feel fear whenever a brown envelope is pushed through my letterbox.
Such is the fear felt at the changes being made by this government, the person I care for has made two attempts upon their life that required lengthy stays in hospital. The medical team and Mental Health Crisis Team all stated that such actions are becoming increasingly common. Such is the fear felt by those being targeted by Government.
It has been an interesting experience to read attempts, by those who support such pernicious policies, to criticise this film in the hope of undermining its message. They also have a vested interest, they are also emotionally involved.
I have always experienced abuse, of varying levels, directed at my disability, but I have noted an increase over the past few years. It has also changed somewhat in nature. It can’t be a stretch of the imagination to say that media and government ‘scrounger’ and ‘faker’ rhetoric, designed to nudge acceptance of pernicious policies, is the cause.
One only has to read Toby Young’s attempt to undermine the film’s message in the Daily Mail to see an example…
“I dare say some were men like Daniel Blake, who were wrongly assessed. But the vast majority should never have been receiving disability benefit.”
Of course Toby, of course! You have no proof, no understanding of what goes on, but you are happy to further fuel the narrative that most disabled people are not genuine. This is, for a man in his position, totally irresponsible and dangerous. Toby is big on personal responsibility, so he shouldn’t be surprised if I hold people such as himself personally responsible for contributing to a climate that feeds disability abuse.
I wrote about my daily experiences and my thoughts as to why they occur in an article here.
The aforementioned ‘man with an opinion’ Toby Young tries hard to negate the impact of the film. He fails, but he does succeed in making himself look rather silly. Can he really have watched the film? He claims that its running time is 140 minutes rather than its 100 minute duration. He asks questions that, ‘if’ he had watched the film or at least paid attention, he would have found answered by said film.
“…it is dishonest to suggest, as the film does, that Daniel couldn’t appeal until a so-called ‘decision-maker’ had called him. Employment and Support Allowance claimants are entitled to appeal as soon as they get the letter telling them their application has been turned down.”
No, Toby. Daniel could not simply appeal, he did indeed have to first wait for the call from the ‘decision-maker’. The film is correct, you are in error. And no, Toby. Daniel could not simply appeal as soon as his ESA rejection letter arrived. Again, the film is correct and you are in error – again!
This is because the architect of much of the horror YOU support Toby, the lamentable Iain Duncan Smith introduced ‘The Mandatory Reconsideration’.
Now why did he do this?
Because, upon seeing that the number of people who made an appeal were actually winning their appeals, because they were indeed genuine, what did he do? Did he say ‘Hmm, there must be something wrong with the process if so many are winning on appeal. Let us take a look at it to make it fairer?’
No. Iain Duncan Smith introduced another layer of bureaucracy, the aforementioned – mandatory reassessment. You cannot appeal until this mandatory reassessment has been undertaken. In which time you, like Daniel, are in limbo. Told by your trained, experienced, medical experts that you should not work, that doing so could endanger your health and even take your life, all this is overruled by some chiropractor ‘retrained’ and I use that phrase loosely, to become an HCP. These HCP can overrule all the medical evidence in 10 minutes – Oh I’m sorry, what am I thinking, it isn’t the HCP but the Decision Maker.
Toby then moves onto the plight Katy finds herself in…
“What about poor Katie? Is it likely she’d be reduced to selling her body to buy her daughter a new pair of school shoes? Hardly. A single mother with two children typically gets more than £200 a week in state hand-outs and her rent would normally be covered by housing benefit. School shoes from Tesco cost around £10.”
Again, all explained there in the film you ‘said’ you watched Toby. Katie had been sanctioned!
Now, Toby. Let us be totally clear as to what a sanction is. ‘I, Daniel Blake’ clearly shows the impact of a sanction. It is a young mother choosing between eating food herself or feeding her children. Toby, the woman depicted within ‘I, Daniel Blake’, like so many women, so many parents in this pitiful, unnecessary, inhumane situation, display far more courage than you will ever know. I would not wish such experiences upon you.
A sanction is the threat of starvation, of eviction, of homelessness. It is BLACKMAIL, it is state terrorism. We do not threaten to starve those found guilty of murder, they are also not denied fair trial and representation. We also do not incarcerate innocent members of said persons family. But the state does all this to a claimant and their family. The state punishes the children because they are also starved for a ‘crime’ they certainly did not commit.
Young concludes by saying…
“But don’t call it ‘social realism’. Judging by its misty-eyed, laughably inaccurate portrait of benefits Britain, it should be called a ‘romantic comedy’.
In those two sentences Toby Young attempts to negate the experiences, the pain, of so many people. It is accurate Toby, you only have to listen to those who live it, but then you know it to be accurate. Let us not be under any illusion that what the likes of Young want is a reasoned debate. Far from it, furthering their own pernicious ideology is what they aim for and this film, and the audience it is getting, endangers that pursuit.
The only honest thing in Young’s hate filled rant is when he says…
‘I’m no expert on the welfare system…’
Bernadette Meaden, amongst others, has brought up Toby Young on his many ‘errors’ but he is isn’t willing to really engage, to correct, to see just how dangerous said ‘errors’ are.
Now the attacks upon the film, from the likes of Camilla Long, Young etc, rather than hurt the film, actually display the strength of ‘I, Daniel Blake’ and show it to be a work of great importance. The honesty scares the likes of Young and Iain Duncan Smith. It is the nail that has to be hammered down and they are desperate to do so.
Iain Duncan Smith is already attempting to rewrite history on his involvement, as he usually does when things he has had a hand in go wrong.
I have been critical of many a government before, but I had NEVER, until the Conservatives came into power in 2010, been scared of my Government. When I cried at ‘I, Daniel Blake’ the tears erupted out of a sense of relief. For here, finally, on the screen was something that actually understood the pain of the experiences I, and many like me, have endured over the past 6 years. The anxiety, the sleepless nights, the damn FEAR for the future.
I will be eternally grateful to Ken Loach, and his creative team, for having made this film. For offering up a much needed counter to the hateful onslaught directed at us. It is an important film. It shows the reality of the situation for many disabled people and carers. It shows the reality of what many like ‘me’ have faced over the past six years.
‘Kes’ was one of the films that made me want to tell stories, to make narratives – be they through the lens of a camera, on a page or on stage.
‘I, Daniel Blake’ has re-energised that desire.
“Mid-life male photographer meets young, nubile female student-cum-artistic muse – so far it’s old hat. But photographer turned playwright Christopher John Ball and co-writer Dean Sipling, whose background is film and television, bring the pairing into a thoroughly contemporary world of intercepted emails, sinister insinuation and sharp retorts. Their ‘guilty until proved innocent’ plot … is thoroughly watchable and believable – perhaps as a result of Ball’s professional insights and DS Dom Lucas’ services as police advisor to the production” Barbara Lewis – The Stage