We Are Daniel Blake

We Are Daniel Blake

Sometimes a film comes along that offers more than social commentary, or even with the intention of raising awareness. It becomes social responsibility. The voice of the voiceless and ignored masses. It presents a civic duty to us all. Its power doesn’t arrive by inflating issues to fill the big screen but allowing the uncomfortable truths – the government would have you ignore – stand front and centre.

Ken Loach’s film, penned by Paul Laverty, shows us what people can be reduced to in modern day Britain. A working-class man that genuinely wants to work but can’t receive assistance from the state despite medical professionals insisting he doesn’t resume activity.

A single mother that only wants the best for her children but is faced with impossible choices as she sees support slip away. Surely the net of despair is closing fast when trips to the food bank aren’t a turning point, just a brief interlude to delay starvation.

She collapses, eating in an aisle, ashamed but desperate. Apologetic to those who do care for her plight and don’t need her pleas for forgiveness. All the while, an unsympathetic state turns the screw. The starvation of her soul becomes more debilitating than malnutrition.

The cold faces of benefit officers symbolic of the callous government peddling senseless rules. These only exist to ostracise the most vulnerable, placing a buffer between real world issues and the comfy 1%.

The working-class man is the title featured Daniel Blake. A far from workshy joiner who suffers a cardiac arrest. Following this, his dignity is placed under lock and key by the benefits system.

His cardiologist flatly refuses a return to work but a work capability assessment – carried out by a person so devoid of humanity and common sense, they resemble a primitive android – declares him ineligible for support allowance.

It transpires his doctor was never consulted and he can’t challenge the judgement until contacted by the appeals officer. This racks up his phone bill and even when, in person, he explains at the benefits office he isn’t computer literate, the stock response is to consult the website.

There is one helpful face there but even she is reprimanded for offering assistance instead of letting people flounder and fail.

Katie is the single mother. A woman in Newcastle after leaving London due to a housing shortage. A long way from home and alone, her first taste of “assistance” comes in the form of a week without payment due to her late arrival.

It creates a volatile scene that begs the characters involved – along with the viewer – to realise it’s just a person that needs help. Shouldn’t the rules exist to aid, not obstruct?

The Daniel and Katie dynamic shows how people pull together when faced with insurmountable odds. If it weren’t for this, the country would collapse because the powers-that-be have stopped listening. And watching. And caring.

Daniel’s neighbour, a young man that offers help when asked, provides some light relief. And in spite of the main subject matter, the spirit of good-nature and humour somehow manages to find its way out of the few available cracks of light.

Ultimately it will be viewed by those with differing political views as either observation or incitement. A warning shot or a motivational video. Those that fail to take heed of the message, are ignoring the real problems the country faces. It’s easier to look the other way: the government encourage you to do just this.

Writing this on the eve of a General Election, it seems pertinent. Right now, Daniel Blake’s problems may seem far away and unconnected to your own. As perhaps the elderly care debate, student fees or NHS funding.

But excusing one wrongdoing because it doesn’t directly affect you, gives the government carte blanche to move onto other political agendas. If you continue to allow the Daniel Blakes to grow in number, one day you will find yourself among them.

By then it will be too late to call for help or expect change.

You are Daniel Blake. They are Daniel Blake. I am Daniel Blake.

Lady Macbeth – Review

Lady Macbeth – Review

Since its release at the Toronto International Film Festival, Lady Macbeth has been teased to the general public via trailers that hint of lust and suffering. Now that it’s finally released to the wider public – receiving critical acclaim as early reports trickle in – it seems the peeks of the picture weren’t lying.

However, the scene they set isn’t the exact one we are given. And this diversion isn’t aided by those early critics and their misleading reviews. Lady Macbeth, so early into its life, faces the potential hazard of being a victim of presumed success and acclaim.

The story is a reworking of the 1865 novella Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District by Nikolai Leskov. The title was a nod to Shakespeare’s Lady Macbeth. Of course, she was a woman happy to commit murder to further her gains.

In Lady Macbeth, the female lead becomes Katherine, a young woman “purchased” by Christopher Fairbank’s Boris for his distant and cold son, Alexander, played by Paul Hilton. The setting is now Victorian North East England (complete with accents). The early scenes set the tone of the marriage and the house where Katherine resides. Boris has expectations of how his son should be satisfied.

In turn, Katherine is subservient to Alexander’s demands. But her husband would rather humiliate and degrade than allow actual closeness. The reason he favours belittling over making the marriage work, and why his abuse never escalates to the physical, is a theme left to fester without direct explanation.

It moves along in the early stages where, without much appearing to happen, a lot is going on. This trick is performed in no small part to Florence Pugh’s portrayal of Katherine. Her enforced reserve, and reluctant obedience, doesn’t mask the effervescent character bubbling below the surface.

When the men of the house leave on business for a number of weeks, it gives her free reign to attempt an escape from its claustrophobic confines. She is a girl that likes the outdoors but is treated like a caged bird. Free to walk the moors an unlocking of her mind begins. With it, her inhibitions fall away, desires are allowed to be explored.

Hearing a raucous commotion in the barns, she goes to investigate. There she discovers her servant, Naomi Ackie’s Anna, has been stripped and hung in a bag. The male workers are rowdy and behaving improperly. She commands they face the wall – treatment she is personally familiar with – sends Anna away, before chastising the men.

Rather than being the end of trouble, it opens Pandora’s box. It is here she meets Cosmo Jarvis as Sebastian. A love affair ensues that appears to be based purely on lust and forbidden sins. But that would be overly simplistic and deny Pugh the credit she deserves for leading Sebastian – and the viewer – on a journey of tainted love.

We saw in The Falling she can use sexuality as a tool for captivation, here the technique is far more subtle, much more explosive. She grows before our eyes, at times appears pained with potential outcomes, reveals humanity, acts as ruthless as a heartless animal, while remaining tempered throughout.

The overwhelming positive response to this film is really an accolade for Florence Pugh.

She is the medium the claustrophobic atmosphere uses to increase throughout. By breathing life into her character, it masks other failings. There wasn’t enough screen time – presumably due to budget constraints – for the descent to madness to be fully explored.

Shakespeare’s Macbeth sees its protagonists make cold decisions as they seek power, only to endure haunting demises. Pugh is barely allowed to tap into this facet before the viewer is served up a conclusion to the story (one that differs from the novella).

It means the gravitas of each choice is lost as we move to signposted events. For all Pugh’s excellent work, it means there comes a point empathy turns to dismay to disgust without the chance to consider the human side of her drives.

If love can be illogical, Lady Macbeth is a great advert for the emotion.

In time, expectations of the film will level and the great shining light – Florence Pugh – will be the only element worthy of note. When the contents of the story are taken into account, it means the film can’t be considered a complete success.

Everything that Remains

Everything that Remains

Season one of The Leftovers was highly regarded here at The Reflective. With the end of the trilogy upon us, it’s a good chance to look back at the second season and recall if it’s worthy of a proper, definitive conclusion.

A fear going into the follow-up season is whether or not the script writers will do the original work justice. The source material of Tom Perrotta’s novel had been exhausted in the first series. It meant those that turned their back on Lost were prepared for Damon Lindelof to undo all the solid foundation the world of Mapleton had been built upon.

They needn’t have worried (or abandoned Lost, actually), for a number of reasons. Lindelof understood the concept and his co-writers added to the mystique each episode, rather than detract from the core essence of the novel; Perrotta himself even penned a few scripts.

Also, the story is one that is moving relentlessly forward. After the Guilty Remnant has been beaten and burnt out of town, there was little need to labour that part of the story. Other shows may have rehashed the first series, spending another ten weeks exploring the after effects in the same bubble.

That isn’t how life works and The Leftovers is an examination of this in its most complex form: the human condition.

Instead they introduce a new fictional town: Jarden, Texas aka Miracle. The moniker exists because this is a unique place, not one single person vanished in the Departure. So, it is seen as a safe haven should a second incident ever occur. A pure place where people can be saved. But wherever there’s people, there’s sin and corruption.

Symbolism and metaphor are interwoven into the events. This is evident from the first scene, where a pregnant primitive woman is seen to avoid death from rockfall, enters labour, but ultimately dies defending the life of her child from a snake. The infant is rescued by a passing female at a watering hole.

That riverbed happens to be the same one in present day Jarden, and we’re away. The events and interpretations begin from that initial element.

The Leftovers e02s01

The story requires viewers to jump around and become reacquainted with the main players from the previous season. Kevin Garvey and Nora relocate to Jarden to escape memories. Carrie Coon’s character is especially hounded as her house is a favourite spot for investigators. After all, the dining room table did take three people all at once.

The scientists have already formed a theory behind what the rapture moment was but this is complicated by the sway toward something spiritual. Which is why Nora chooses Jarden. Not for the religious connotations, but because her brother, Christopher Eccleston’s Matt Jamison, is doing church work for its congregation.

He is one cornerstone of the probable human choices we see. Another is the Murphy family, they neighbour the new arrivals. The father, John, is an inadvertent mob ruler. They want to keep their little patch of paradise safe from the outside world. When his daughter and her friends go missing, at the aforementioned lake, he becomes a dog with a bone.

The daughter in question Evie, played by the screen-filling Jasmin Savoy Brown, propels the story along without requiring much mention. This is thanks to the screen presence of the actress and the lasting impression she leaves, to the unfortunate fact Kevin Garvey woke at the crime scene, unable to recall any sequence of events.

We do catch up with the Guilty Remnant cult. They are still actively recruiting and we see this alongside Tom Garvey infiltrate them in order to save members and get them to a support group. This is being headed by his mother – and Kevin’s estranged wife – Laurie Garvey. She is now free from its clutches and even attempting to sell a book about her time on the silent side.

The Guilty Remnant is a cornerstone element that represents mankind’s strive for power and control. Many belief systems co-exist in a show where people are struggling to make sense of a world without facts.

The viewer is never taken toward a right or wrong answer but is led down the garden path on occasion. And we also see behind the curtain. Season one was never about giving answers to the Departure, you won’t find a concrete solution here but it’s no longer about just accepting the unknown.

Through Kevin’s experiences, we literally head into the unknown. No spoilers will be given here (which makes this a difficult review to compose) but just as we had to accept the Departure, we have to accept other forces may be at play. Or not.

The highlights of the season will be how groups of people gravitate to differing ideas and then persecute opponents, a representation of humanity condensed into a TV show.

Carrie Coon The Leftovers

Carrie Coon – an amazing discovery from the first season – also shares a scene with Regina King (Erika Murphy) that is Frost/Nixon like. The tension palpable, the performances beyond anything you’d expect to see outside of a serious theatre play.

And the main mention has to go to Justin Theroux. His character has evolved from when we first saw him as the town’s cop. When he dons that outfit in a late episode in this season, the complexities and sides of his persona become startling obvious. He spends the season in his own personal purgatory, by the end, he is beaten down and you feel every struggle he’s endured.

Justin Theroux The Leftovers Season 2

Even the Max Richter soundtrack – always a powerful and efficient tool – struggles to do Theroux’s turn and Kevin’s plight justice.

In the hands of others, the concept for The Leftovers to return would have been seen as jumping the shark. Instead we are treated to something even more profound than the original. A sign of its true excellence is how the mysteries that remain are less important to solve than the fate of the people involved.