End of the movie, the credits begin to roll. Most audience members are visibly shaken. Some are crying. Others are pretending they are capable of keeping their cool. We look at each other, doubtful and bewildered. No one speaks. Then the silence is broken. From one of the back rows of Cinema 1 at the Watershed in Bristol, a loud cry rises: “Fuck the Tories!” Some applauded and cheered. Others, like me, were taken aback. Was this the reaction Loach was expecting?
I, Daniel Blake is an important film. A welcome counter-narrative to a class bias that has become endemic and often turns into open hostility. In a cultural context in which the poor – British or migrant – is regularly demonized, scorned, belittled or, in the best case scenario, ignored, this story is necessary. And yet, at the end of the film I felt manipulated. Rather than letting the story speak for itself, the movie purposefully crammed a series of emotionally strong episodes without giving them the necessary weight. The result often verged on the melodramatic. Luckily for Loach, the movie is saved by the acting: Dave Johns and Hayley Squires are terrific.
Fuck the Tories. Yes, of course. I get it. And I kind of agree. Loach offered a necessary counter-narrative, and this is already a politically significant statement. The audience at the Watershed might be composed of Guardian-reading, avocado-eating hipsters who already agree with Loach (I am guilty), yet, we need to hear this story in all its rawness. Anything capable of bursting the cosy middle-class bubble we live in must be good. I, Daniel Blake is a punch in the stomach, but poor storytelling defuses the movie’s explosive material. Had Loach allowed its audience to go beyond outrage, beyond rage, his statement would have been much more powerful.