Great films about the working class have the capacity to inspire political action as well as empathy. In this week’s Working-Class Perspective, Sarah Attfield explains why I, Daniel Blake (2016) is such a moving depiction of working-class life.
The story is familiar to many people. Working-class people in the UK have been devastated by austerity measures, and reports suggest that many people have become seriously ill or even died because of welfare sanctions or being told they are fit to work. Activists have been protesting against austerity and lobbying politicians, but still people cannot feed themselves and their families, heat their homes, or purchase necessities such as sanitary products. Poor and working-class people continue to suffer.
Loach’s film offers an important fictional account of the impact of austerity, and it has resonated with a wide audience in the UK. The film has been talked about across many platforms and even mentioned in Parliament, and it has inspired criticism of the system of Work Capability Assessments. Guides have been published on how to navigate the benefits systems. I, Daniel Blake has also reached a large and diverse audience, including not only the usual middle-class art house film audience, but many working-class people as well, some of whom attended ‘pay what you can’ community screenings of the film. Working-class audiences have welcomed the film, and the characters of Daniel Blake and Katie Morgan have taken on a symbolic value. Many see them as representing the thousands of working-class people suffering due to Tory policies.
The Working-Class Perspectives blog is brought to you by our Visiting Scholar for the 2015-16 academic year, John Russo, and Georgetown University English professor, Sherry Linkon. It features several regular and guest contributors.