I, Daniel Blake :: Is This the Most Devastating Film Ever Made?

Cineville - Daniel Blake

I knew it was going to be very emotional, having already cried twice at the trailer. In fact, I, Daniel Blake is one of the most powerful and devastating films I've ever seen. From the very first lines of dialogue, spoken over stark unadorned credits, it got its hooks in me. And it never let go, and I don't think it never will.

Daniel Blake is a 59-year-old Geordie carpenter, a widower recovering from a heart attack, being forced by the Department for Work and Pensions to look for work, despite being told to rest by doctors. At the beginning of his frustrating journey, he befriends a struggling single mum and her two kids. The film charts their relationship as they both struggle to survive the in-built dehumanisation of a warped welfare state.

The story is for the most part wholly predictable, but that doesn't diminish the film's power. In fact, that may be a large part of its power. The fact is, poverty and desperation are predictable. But thankfully so is compassion. When the characters in the film support one another in their most desperate moments, it cuts the heart so deeply that you can almost taste the blood.

Actually, there is a scene at a food bank that, thinking about it now three hours after having seen it, still brings tears to my eyes.

Cineville - Daniel Blake

Hayley Squires as single mum Katie is heartbreaking in almost every scene she's in, but never pathetic, and Dave Johns is great as Dan, baffled and desperate, but in his finest moments, gloriously defiant.

Some critics have argued that I, Daniel Blake is an exaggeration or that the characters are too broadly painted, too black and white, good or evil. I disagree very strongly. The world depicted in the film happens to be a world I know pretty well. I'm from the north-east of England and although I was never as desperate as the main characters in the film, I have had times in my life when I've relied on the welfare state. For me, the film rings 100% true.

Cineville - Daniel Blake

I felt like I knew the characters very well, from the salt-of-the-earth, do-anything-for-anyone, ordinary working people, to the cold-as-ice, unbending officials who can't see past the purposefully obstructive rules and regulations. And there were plenty of characters who fell between the two extremes.

For me, this is pretty much a perfect film. A tough watch but an important one.


Cineville - Daniel Blake


The Viewing

Screen One at Cinecenter is a particularly beautiful room, all decked out like a cinema in a dream, with billowing cinema-curtain red cinema curtains billowing out all over the place, even from , including the ceiling. It's like sitting in a giant, soothing, cinematic womb.

As I took my seat in the centre of the second row - which is almost always empty, even when the rest of the cinema is pretty full as it was tonight - I noticed there was a lectern and microphone in front of the screen. Ooh, I thought. Maybe Ken Loach is here.

He wasn't.

But someone from the cinema introduced someone from the local cultural scene, who talked about forthcoming attractions and then about the work of Ken Loach, for around fifteen minutes. The Dutchness of both women's words prevented me from gaining a thorough understanding, but I recorded the fuckers and one day I will look back and laugh at how little I knew then (now) and how much I know now (then).

Then I watched the film and frankly, I don't believe I've ever felt such grief in a public setting that wasn't a funeral. 

I wasn't the only one in the cinema that was destroyed by the film. I liked that. And I enjoyed how there was an errant bottle scuttering down the aisle on my way to the exit, and I took control of it rather decisively with my foot and a beautiful woman smiled into my grief-drenched face as I straightened up with the bottle in my hand and I wanted to hold her in my arms and cry into her neck.

But it was not to be. The world is a tough place.

I found this a week after seeing the film and I rejoice and post it here because every time someone voices the truth, some of the damage is undone and we inch forwards again. It's not pointless.

Compare that to this foul, horrific creature, who doesn't know he's fucking born...

Fuck him.

And blessings be upon Ken Loach.

About the Author

I am Karl Webster. I wrote these words. If you liked them, you’ll be overjoyed to know that there are plenty more where they came from. So you should definitely sign up to my newsletter if you haven’t already.

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