Guest Review: I, Daniel Blake (2016)

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Directed By: Ken Loach
Written By: Paul Laverty
Cast: Dave Johns, Hayley Squires, Sharon Percy
Runtime: 1 hr 40 minutes

If film is a mirror on society then the sheer volume of recent movies about the ugliness of the post-GFC world is a reflection of the scale of devastation it has caused. Most are essays in poverty that explore the loss of humanity for ordinary people. The film I, Daniel Blake (2016) is another in this genre. It is an intense portrait of an ordinary man who struggles to retain dignity in an Orwellian world. Far from entertaining, it is gritty, raw, and unrelenting.

Daniel Blake (Dave Johns) is a rough-speaking but likable 59-year-old tradesman in Newcastle, England. He is recovering from a serious heart attack and lives alone. Unable to work, he does what thousands like him do in such circumstances: he applies for support allowance so he can pay his bills until health returns. What happens next is not the point, rather it is how it happens that will make you cringe. Form-filling becomes an obstacle course for preventing people like Daniel from getting help and the staff who process him absolve themselves of responsibility through constant referral to the “decision-maker” who is never there. Denied support allowance, he must apply for a job-seeker benefit that requires 35 hours a week of documented job hunting. His protestations are officially sanctioned and he loses all support.

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In the midst of his own inhuman treatment by a soul-less bureaucracy Daniel tries to help a single mother with two young children who is also crushed by the system. Katie (Hayley Squires) has moved from a homeless hostel and is living on food handouts because her benefits have been stopped. She finds ‘affordable accommodation’ that Daniel offers to repair and he becomes a father figure. Still unable to buy shoes for her children, Katie finds the kind of work that shocks Daniel but is the last resort for many abandoned by a social welfare system with gaping holes in its safety net. Desperate to help her, Daniel vents his frustration through graffiti on the welfare office wall and briefly becomes an urban hero.

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This is a disturbing film that many audiences will find confronting, particularly those who think they live in a caring society that supports people in need. The pace is slow and the dialogue often terse, but that’s how life is at the bottom. The subdued cinematography and colour palette accentuates the drabness of life for the dispossessed. Perfectly cast, the two main actors fill their roles with an authentic voice for countless ordinary people who fall on hard times. There is no joy in this film and whatever humour you find is there to make the story bearable. But in a world that moves inexorably towards a hard-right social conscience, it is a film that cries out to be seen and heard.

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cinemuseRichard Alaba, PhD
CineMuse Films
Member, Australian Film Critics Association
Sydney, Australia


Have you seen ‘I, Daniel Blake’? Well, what did you think? 

My interview with The Angels’ Share’s Screenwriter Paul Laverty – on Ken Loach, inhabiting the characters of his films, Eric Cantona, and more!

The Scottish indie The Angels’ Share kicked off the MSPIFF last Thursday, the latest from acclaimed British director, Ken Loach. Loach’s award-winning long-time screenwriting partner, Paul Laverty, was in attendance for the film festival’s opening night.

PaulLavertyI was fortunate enough to get a sit down interview with Mr. Laverty the afternoon before the film premiere. Bummer that I didn’t get a chance to take a picture of Paul, so the photo to the right I found from Google.

I was planning on having the entire taping of the interview here, alas I forgot to turn my phone on airplane mode so when my friend called me two minutes into the interview and I didn’t realize that it stopped the recording until five minutes later, so I lost a great deal of our conversation where I asked Mr. Laverty about working with Ken Loach and with the actors in The Angels’ Share, so I’ll try my best to write down his answer based on memory, so a lot of the first few answers here is paraphrasing [note to self: get it in writing in case technology snafu happens!]. But the last three questions were on tape, so you can listen to his answers below.

Anyhoo, here’s the interview:

Q: This is your 12th collaboration with Mr. Ken Loach and together you’ve won numerous awards for your work. What’s the secret of such a successful collaboration?

A: Ah yes, well ehm, it’s hard to be objective about it, hard to put my finger on it exactly, well I think the big thing is that we believe the same things, we care about the same things and want to see the same things being explored cinematicaly. Another thing is, it’s fun working with Ken, obviously. But he’s also a radical man, he has a strong opinion about things so it’s could be a challenge, he challenges me sometimes when we work together. But he’s also a very funny man, which makes it enjoyable to work with.

Q: I like stories about second chances and how a small gesture of kindness can turn someone’s life around. The character of Harry, played brilliantly by John Henswaw, is such a wonderful, inspiring character, is he based on anyone you know?

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John Henshaw and Paul Brannigan

A: Glad you mentioned him. John Henshaw is such a wonderful actor and he played his role beautifully. I don’t think [Harry] was based on a single person, but more of a compilation of several people I knew who devoted their lives to rehabilitating the kids who are cast out from society, who can’t get out of their life situation even if they want to because nobody wants to take a chance on them, nobody’s willing to give them a job. That’s why I wanted to tell a story that perhaps would illustrate that part of society, that part of life, and maybe that’d get people to see how tough it is.

Q: The characters in this film are portrayed in such convincing ways by the actors. How did you find them, as I learned that most of the actors didn’t have any acting experience?

A: Yes, the lead Paul Brannigan who played Robbie has never acted before this. His real life story is actually very similar to Robbie, he’s also been to prison. But he was more than up for it. He obviously identified with his character and what he went through. There’s a lot of improvisation and as filming progressed, his confidence [as an actor] just grew and grew. Plus he’s not afraid to take a chance.

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Ken Loach, Paul Brannigan and Paul Laverty in Cannes

In relation to Laverty’s answer, this is what Ken Loach said about working with Brannigan, per The Guardian:

Says Loach: “He had real emotional truth. He knew this part implicitly. He’s also very astute. Some young actors have talent but you can’t really read them. With Paul, you can, and that’s quite unusual. He’s very centred and focused and economical.”

Q: The dialog in this movie is just wonderful. There’s a profound moment where Robbie’s wife said to him in the hospital as they’re holding their newborn baby, “You just get one shot of being a wee baby, Robbie. Just one shot… You know what that means don’t you?”

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“… I think it’s about trying to see the world from the point of view of that character… and that’s always the great challenge to do that well and not to turn it into a stereotype.”

Q: My friend Mark who lives in Glasgow is a big fan of yours and he’s wondering whether you’re a Celtics or Rangers fan?

A: I’m a Celtics fan, you have to tell him… all the film fans are Celtics fans… as for Ranger fans, I don’t think they see films. Now don’t put that it in print, ahah.

Q: Now, Mark also asked me to pass this question to you… it’s about the situation in Glasgow. He said that the city doesn’t entirely function on sport [football] but its more to do with the religious divide that comes with the sport. It’s hard to describe but it permeates through the city and plays a big part of the cultural divide. It seems like it’s a topic that hasn’t been explored in films hardly at all.

“The ugliest part of Glasgow is the sectarian divide… you know, which is a great shame. It’s a great curse to the city. I think your friend is right. I think there could be a great story told about it…”

Mr. Laverty then said that Mark should write that story. He asked me to say hello to him, so Mark, perhaps one day you would collaborate with Mr. Laverty and Ken Loach on this Scottish football drama! 😉

Q: Why Eric Cantona, of all the other famous football players in Europe?

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Eric Cantona in ‘Looking for Eric’

“Because Eric Cantona came to us and was very keen on collaborating with us. And he came with another idea, which you know, didn’t really work for us. But I was very fascinated by the figure of Eric Cantona, and Ken loves football as well.”

Mr. Laverty also recommended a football-themed film he did with Ken Loach, Italian director Ermanno Olmi and Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami called Tickets. I definitely will be renting that!


Off the record:

At the end of the interview, Mr. Laverty asked which publication I worked for, and when I told him I run a movie blog, he asked if I work on it full time and that he’s always fascinated by how these things came about. Then I replied that I have a full time job elsewhere and that I run my blog after work, and he said how it must take incredible energy.

He was very encouraging when I said I’d love to write for films one day, saying “Well you should do it, I mean if you have that much energy… you stop interviewing people like me and write your own script,”… to which I replied that I’m constantly inspired by creative people like him. But in any case, maybe one day I take up on his advice 😀

THANK YOU Mr. Laverty for your time and for being such so friendly and gracious. Now I really need to do a Ken Loach marathon, starting with Looking For Eric [read Mark’s review of it here]


Hope you enjoy the interview. Now, what’s your favorite film(s) from Ken Loach & Paul Laverty?

Minneapolis St Paul International Film Festival (MSPIFF) – April 11-28

MSPIFFlogo I’m so glad to live in a city where arts & culture thrive and are celebrated year round. Well, the biggest film event of the state, The Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Festival today or MSPIFF for short, opens today! I’ll be picking up my Press Pass later this afternoon. Thanks to the Festival Coordinator (Eric) for the prompt response in approving my application! 😀 Check out the official website for the full lineup selections for the 2013 Festival, which features regional premieres of international and local independent feature-length and short films representing over 60 countries. The Festival, presented by the Film Society of Minneapolis St. Paul, runs April 11 through 28 on all five screens of the St. Anthony Main Theatre, 115 SE Main Street, Minneapolis. Here’s what will be showing for their Special Presentations:

Opening Night: The Angels’ Share • UK Closing Night: In a World… • USA Centerpiece Special Presentation: Caesar Must Die • Italy Centerpiece Special Presentation: Midnight’s Children • India Disconnect • USA The East • USA The Kings of Summer • USA Kon-Tiki • Norway/Denmark/UK Low Movie (How to Quit Smoking) • USA Mud • USA The Reluctant Fundamentalist • India/Pakistan/USA Twenty Feet from Stardom • USA Unfinished Song [Song For Marion] • UK What Maisie Knew • USA

MSPIFF_scheduleWow, quite a lineup, isn’t it? Some of them have won film festival awards from around the country, for example, Ken Loach’s The Angels’ Share won the Jury Prize at Cannes and Caesar Must Die won the Golden Bear at 2012 Berlinale. I’ve just downloaded the schedule which is quite handy. You can download the Block Schedule here. I’ve perused the schedule and I’m definitely going to try to see at least 10 films in the next three weeks, here are some I’m hoping to catch:

  • I, Anna
  • Caesar Must Die
  • Mud
  • Unfinished Song (Song for Marion)
  • Disconnect
  • The Reluctant Fundamentalist
  • The East
  • Kon-Tiki
  • The Hunt
  • In a World…

I’m sure there’ll be more that caught my eye as I go through the film descriptions on their massive FILMS page. Well, last night, I had the pleasure of watching Ken Loach’s latest feature film The Angels’ Share ahead of my interview with its screenwriter Paul Laverty this afternoon. Here’s the premise of the film:

Narrowly avoiding jail, new dad Robbie vows to turn over a new leaf. A visit to a whisky distillery inspires him and his mates to seek a way out of their hopeless lives.

AngelsSharePoster My friend Mark wrote a beautiful review of this film and I love what he wrote about it…

Loach still has the power of gritty authenticity and on a few occasions he displays that but like the beverage they are concerned about in the film, it has a nice balance; it manages to be both rough and smooth… A slight change of pace from Ken Loach and more upbeat than fans of his will be accustomed to but he manages the understatement very well and delivers one of his most feel-good films to date.

I absolutely agree with Mark that The Angels’ Share has a nice balance of being rough and smooth, it’s a feel-good film without being unnecessarily over-sentimental. The dialog is witty and hilarious at times, and the acting by mostly-unknown young actors are very natural and convincing. Suffice to say, it’s a GREAT pick for an opening film for MSPIFF! Hope you’ll check it out when it’s playing in an indie theater near you.

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Paul Laverty [right] with Ken Loach on the set of The Angels’ Share
I’m so looking forward to my 10-minute chat with Mr. Laverty later this afternoon, though I wish I had seen more of his films. He has done some fantastic work, mostly with Loach, most notably The Wind that Shakes The Barley and Looking for Eric, both of which have won the Palme d’Or at Cannes and also the British Independent Film Award. I sure hope the thunderstorm—yep you read it correctly, we’ve got lightning AND snow last night and this morning, [sigh]—dies down a bit in the afternoon, but this snow ain’t gonna stop me!! I’ll definitely be blogging about the interview, so stay tuned 😀


Have you seen any of these… or does any of these films interest you?