Keith Oatley (2010: unpaginated 'Why Fiction May Be Twice as True as Fact' New English Review) reminds us that in the preface of Oliver Twist (first published as a serial 1837-39) Charles Dickens wrote IT IS TRUE. In his tale of thugs, street gangs, prostitutes, cruel government officials, a few kind people and orphaned Oliver, Dickens set out to highlight the ‘unacceptably horrifying images of contemporary life'. Dickens’ writings did not eradicate poverty or cruelty, but he had influence, and some people reading his work for 'entertainment' might not have been aware of such experiences without Oliver Twist and similar.
In an interview about his film I, Daniel Blake, the latest in a large number of politically influenced works, director Ken Loach said 'If you're not angry what kind of person are you?'
Whilst in London last week I saw I Daniel Blake. I went prepared and shared my stash of tissues with the 60 something woman sitting next to me. The young man on my other side had brought his own. From the many reviews and responses I have read it is clear, despite the occasional denial or critique, that not only is this film having a huge impact on most of those who see it but it also very obviously speaks to the experience of far too many individuals and families living in poverty and dealing with a complex, harsh, and often nonsensical benefit system.
My trip to London last week included participation in a conference. The Brighter Futures Symposium: enhancing opportunities for all in higher education was the fourth in a series of day conferences aimed to 'stimulate discussion, critical thinking and knowledge between the academy, policy and practice' with a specific focus on the experience of Black and ethnic minority students and staff.
In my paper - The Power of Stories: using auto/biographical and creative approaches to explore and highlight the experiences of BME students and staff in HE - I argued (amongst other things) for the need to tell research and scholarly stories in different sorts of creative, accessible ways, not least in order to reach a broader audience than the traditionally academic. Loach could have directed a documentary. He has done in the past. If you prefer this genre visit Peter Stefanovic's Facebook page for real world examples of the social and political concerns highlighted in I, Daniel Blake and other similarly important issues. Based on extensive research the film (just like Oliver Twist) was a wonderful example of how the stories of real world experiences can also be powerfully told through film (and literature).
I did feel angry when I left the cinema. I also felt ashamed; ashamed to live in a society where increasing numbers of people live their lives in such hardship, ashamed that some still deny that this is happening. I also felt humbled.There is great warmth in the film and many examples of loving care for others; determination and resilience; strength of character; humour.
Please watch I, Daniel Blake. Don't forget your hankies.