I, Daniel Blake and a “Dagger in the Heart of Civility”


Today I went to see Ken Loach’s excellent new film I, Daniel Blake, which won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival this year. The film follows Daniel (Dave Johns) and his struggle to gain benefits after a heart attack leaves him unable to work. He becomes friends with Katie (Hayley Squires), a single mom also struggling with the welfare system. The film touchingly depicts what happens when a society’s policies put money and commerce ahead of human life and dignity. I would highly recommend seeing this film.

Here is the trailer:

The film’s writer, Paul Laverty, along with the actress Hayley Squires introduced the screening and came back for a too-brief Q&A at the end. She said that one of the things she liked about working with Ken Loach on this film was that he shot the film in chronological order.

Paul Laverty said that he wrote the film in response to the banking crisis and the austerity policies that followed in Europe. He discussed how some politicians saw cutting welfare benefits and making them more difficult to get as low-hanging fruit. Those who were disabled were also particularly targeted for cuts. He commented on how there was a general perception that fraud in the welfare system was rampant, as high as 25%, when it was actually less than 1% of cases.


Writer Paul Laverty and actress Hayley Squires introduce I, Daniel Blake at the New York Film Festival.

Following one of the questions in the Q&A, he also spoke about the recent presidential debate and how Trump commented that he was being smart to avoid paying  taxes. Paul Laverty said that it was a “dagger in the heart of civility” for someone so rich to gloat and think it smart to avoid paying his share for society. The audience clapped very loudly at this.

It has been over 150 years since Charles Dickens wrote the following famous lines in A Christmas Carol:

“Business!” cried the Ghost, wringing its hands again. “Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were, all, my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!”

Sadly, we as a society have yet to learn that mankind is our business.

Love & Friendship

loveandfriendship At 99% percent on Rotten Tomatoes, Love & Friendship, the movie adaptation of Jane Austen’s Lady Susan, was a hit with critics. A.O Scott gave it a critic’s pick, but started his review with “In the past quarter-century or so, there have been too many Jane Austen movies and too few Whit Stillman movies.” If this reflects your own feelings on Jane Austen movies, then this film may be the perfect movie for you!

The tone, characters, and plot of the movie are quite different from other Austen films. In this the director Whit Stillman somewhat follows the book, which is also different from Austen’s other novels. The short novel was published only after Austen died, and as such it is a bit unfair to compare it against her other works because it is unclear how much her final version would have differed from what was published. It is also hard not to do so, however.

I seem to be in the minority in not liking the film nearly as well as the critics. I didn’t hate the film but found it merely okay, something perhaps better rented than seen in the theater. It had solid cinematography and acting but was perhaps too comedic for my tastes. However, it was much better, and not even in the same category, as such comedic disasters as Austenland.

Some of this can be attributed to the source material and some to Stillman’s changes. After seeing the movie, I decided to read Lady Susan, and see how it compared. Some of the problems I had with the film, I also had with the book. Some developments in the plot were a bit too convenient, although such things are not unusual in comedies, which tend to be less realistic.

Stillman also changed the ending. I won’t go into specifics so as to avoid spoilers, but this change didn’t entirely work for me for this film. It could perhaps have been a satisfying ending to a different film, however. I can see why he wanted to change the ending. In the book the ending seems a bit hastily put together and may not have made a great cinematic ending. Perhaps the ending was part of the reason why Austen never published the book herself. Stillman had a very different vision of what he wanted for Lady Susan’s character, but it is hard to change just the ending of a work.