I Daniel Blake Ken
Loach (UK 2016) Dave Johns, Hayley
Viewed: Empire Cinema Newcastle 15 Nov 2016: ticket : £3.75
Locked in syndrome
The opening section of the film is a pointedly constructed scene that comprises a questionnaire administered verbally by a agent of the company subcontracted by the DWP to assess and award DLA payments. Much of the interview, before it cuts to picture is heard voice over the front credits and starts with the familiar ritual greeting from the female interviewer: “Good Morning Mr Blake.” There follows a series of questions of increasing irrelevant intensity regarding DB’s physical abilities, the interview ending on the image of his exasperation and her blanked out indifference.
Ken Loach’s film goes down hill from this point presenting as a series of dramatic sequences driven by the contrivence of ideological polemic culminating in DB’s death and funeral.
As the script moves from scored point to scored point the actors are marooned in a scenario that references only the one dimensionality of their characters. Dave Johns and Hayley Squires’ performances become increasingly lack lustre as the scenario works with unerring predictability to tie the noose around their necks; driving Katie into prostitution and Daniel to an early grave. Daniel Blake quickly becomes a stock stage Geordie character of the sort seen in many Tyneside performance venues. The Geordie ingénue abroad in a wicked world of devices and designs. A character locked somehow into the social realist dramas of the 1960’s and ‘70’s; a time familiar to the director if not to the viewers. Even as a carpenter supposedly working in 2016 Daniel Blake appears adrift in the 19th century. In his armoury of trade tools there is no sign of power tools jig saws and drivers. DB seems reliant on handtools. Rather than the complexity of a contemporary character Laverty and Loach found it easier from the point of view of their polemic agenda to create a character who is a time capsule construct. A character who barely knows how to use a mobile phone (despite working as a carpenter).
The detachment of Daniel Blake from the attributes of his society and his occupation, exercises a distancing effect over the film so that it fails to be the vehicle of communication and resistance desired by Laverty and Loach. Rather, I Daniel Blake, turns into parody that distances the audience from the issues presented. Loach and Laverty lack the filmic ability to transcend TV melodrama and transform the subject into a mythic vehicle that speaks to its audience at a level beyond the surface.
The mechanicality of the process chronicled by Ken Loach is what makes the film uninteresting. Both Daniel and Katie are good people who in the script are demeaned and killed by the system. The problem is that for all that Laverty and Loach’s sympathy is in the right place, their film simplifies where it should complicate. The scenario comprises sequences of events and situations that are a tick list of the bad things that happen when the system fails. It is the mechanicality that deprives the development of interest as we go from: Illness – assessment – stop of benefit – the double bind of seeking work – death. Set on a parallel course to Daniel, Katie with female variation has a similar voyage.
Whilst there are a couple of scenes that work dramatically, notably DB resisting the system in scrawling a graffito on the Job Centre wall, the ending of the film is a particular piece of barren reductionism as Kate reads out Daniel’s last testament in which his life is encapsulated as a polemic. adrin neatrour firstname.lastname@example.org