I did it. I went to see I, Daniel Blake. I went with Mary's younger daughter. I was armed with two handkerchiefs, but as it turned out, I only needed one. That was for the most memorable scene, set in a food bank. It was devastating, and was by far the most powerful moment in what was a hard-hitting film.
Before I went, I read the British reviews on the website Rotten Tomatoes, and noticed that the right wing papers gave the film a lower rating than the liberal and left wing papers. And I thought "Hmm. Typical. They don't like the message, so they're dissing the film."
Now I'm thinking about the film and puzzling over my reaction, and wondering why it doesn't match the wave of feeling on the net. I think it's partly because I had steeled my heart to avoid collapse, partly because (as a writer) I had a few personal tiny doubts about some of the acting and some of the script - who do I think I am? This is the great Ken Loach! - but mostly I think it's because the film didn't tell me anything I didn't already know and have been fuming about for several years.
I used to volunteer in a Citizens Advice Bureau which helps people with a wider range of problems, including wrestles with what was then the bungling bureaucracy of the welfare benefits system. Since I worked there things have changed: the benefits system has been redesigned to be punitive, inhumane, unbending, humiliating, and it is also financially even meaner. Added to this, the poisonous newspapers in this country have whipped up ill-feeling against benefits claimants so that the majority of the public thinks that benefits fraud accounts for 24% of claims, when in fact the figure is 0.7%.
I know how the system works now because I read different newspapers and because of things I have heard from friends. In my day there were no food banks. Now these are an indispensable safety net, and they are run by charities, not the state, which is shocking. But what is more shocking is that over ONE MILLION people in the UK needed emergency three day rations from food banks last year. I, Daniel Blake shows why, and makes it clear that this need is due to circumstances beyond their control.
The screenplay for I, Daniel Blake was written after research, in which the writer spoke to people claiming benefits, and to anonymous sources in benefits offices. Everything that happens in the film has happened to at least one person in real life, and the way the system is portrayed in the JobcentrePlus is realistic. So the truth of the film is beyond reproach.
I don't feel qualified to express misgivings about the film itself (qua film) online, so I won't. It's an important film and delivers a message people need to hear, and that is all that matters. I just read a disgustingly cynical and snide piece about the film by Toby Young in the Daily Mail, where he peddles the usual Daily Mail lies. He queries whether someone who has had a heart attack and whose doctor says he must not work would be turned down for Employment Support Allowance. This does happen. It has happened. There is plenty of documentary evidence. Dying people have been told they are fit to work.
As long as the politicians in this country shut their eyes to the suffering their policies cause, and as long as poisonous (and worryingly popular) papers like the Daily Mail vilify benefits claimants, there will be a need for films like I, Daniel Blake. I so wish things were different.