‘I, Daniel Blake’, Its Significance and Recognition

Perhaps the most socially significant film in the United Kingdom in 2016 was Ken Loach’s politically charged drama, I, Daniel Blake. The film was an unlikely hit, making £3million in the UK and even more – £5.2million – in France, owing its success to a blend of sensational film-making and its openly left-wing political messages of universal wealth and happiness. It was the most financially successful film of its experienced director’s prolific and highly respected career, and it sparked a political campaign under the hashtag #WeAreAllDanielBlake that opposed the restructuring and dismantling of the welfare system in its home country. Left-wing politicians as highly ranked as the leader of the UK’s largest party (Labour), Jeremy Corbin, proudly voiced their support of the movie’s ideologies by echoing the picture’s now iconic “I am a human being” speech in a viral video opposing changes to the welfare system that their opposition party had implemented to the disdain of millions of UK nationals. Over night, Ken Loach’s Palme d’Or winning movie went from being an artistic gem of socially conscious film-making to one of the most mainstream British films in years, and perhaps the most watched challenging British drama of the century.

Hayley Squires (left) and Dave Johns (right) played the central characters in ‘I, Daniel Blake’.

The film’s success corresponded with how identifiable the story of the picture’s central protagonist, Daniel Blake, was to so many who viewed it, and the choice of the filmmakers to cast unknowns in every role throughout the film only helped in this respect. In Daniel Blake and his friend Katie, large percentages of the audience saw themselves or someone they knew, and this attachment helped to make the story resonate in the public conscious as a noteworthy (if not vitally important) moment in 2016 film and culture. In this respect, I, Daniel Blake transcended the cinema screen and became so much more than a simple ‘movie’; it became a must-see, challenging and moving piece of art. Yet still it fought from underneath, with suggestions of political bias or the want to avoid political discussion being theorised as reasons that famous and respectable organisations would overlook the film at awards shows despite its obvious credentials as an all-time classic of the art form. But, perhaps it wasn’t as sinister or neutral as this; perhaps it was as simple as the message of the film seeming ‘too local’ to the UK, or specifically Northern England, to be universally accepted as the film so many saw it as, or perhaps it was the picture’s complete lack of star power. Maybe it was as simple as the film being so subtle in its poetics that it became overlooked as a ‘well-made gritty Northern movie’ – think This is England (2006) – or that the reception of British film critics at the Cannes Film Festival was so overwhelmingly negative that the picture never truly recovered from its tag as ‘the worst Palme d’Or winner ever’.

The European Film Awards nominated I, Daniel Blake 5 times, with the film winning once, while stars Dave Johns and Hayley Squires were the only winners from 7 nominations at the British Independent Film Awards. The Golden Globes completely rejected the film, offering zero nominations, and the same seems likely for The Oscars. With regards to the larger American film awards, it can be assumed that I, Daniel Blake falls mostly under the ‘not universal enough’ tag courtesy of it being centred around the class system North America is much-less in-tune with than their neighbours in Europe, and it’s hard to deny that the number of nominations in Europe and at the BIFAs were certainly indicative of the film being one of the very best each region has to offer. But the picture remains largely without awards show recognition, the very best of which affords independents like I, Daniel Blake the ability to cash-in on a cinematic re-release and an increase to DVD sales, on-demand streaming prices, and so on. Despite the support of the film transcending usual film-watching trends and the influence of the picture being as high reaching as parliament, I, Daniel Blake seems unable to smash through the glass ceiling at awards shows and gain the same universal appraisal that many lesser films have managed to achieve throughout the years.

The BAFTA nominations announcement brought about a great wave of enthusiasm to supporters of this Ken Loach movie however, with 5 nominations in key categories including Best Picture and Best Director being awarded to the film. Having won less awards throughout the entirety of awards season than I, Daniel Blake has nominations at the BAFTAs, it seems highly unlikely that the picture will receive a full-sweep of its five categories, yet there remains a distinct possibility that the British Academy of Film and Television Arts could be considerably more favourable to one of their own films than some of the above mentioned organisations have been. Come the 12th of February, the United Kingdom’s representatives of the arts could universally declare I, Daniel Blake as the classic it will undoubtedly go down in history as, but they could also totally neglect the film and leave Loach’s film to acquire the same cult status of some of his earlier releases, including another of his working class dramas Kes (1969). Either way, Ken Loach’s screen-transcending film remains an ultimate underdog that will have to fight from below at the upcoming awards shows just as its central character had to fight against his government within the narrative of the film.

Whether I, Daniel Blake takes home all 5 BAFTAs or none, the story of the movie has already largely been told, with the unusually high amount of interactivity with its story being of testament to the quality of the work and the peoples’ want for change. I stated in my review of the film that “this is our quiet rage”, and to so many it is. The awarding of a few BAFTAs would be a nationalised recognition of that thought and would be a delightful cherry atop of an important cake made of delicious social change.

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