Welcome to British Isles Friday! British Isles Friday is a weekly event for sharing all things British and Irish — reviews, photos, opinions, trip reports, guides, links, resources, personal stories, interviews, and research posts. Join us each Friday to link your British and Irish themed content and to see what others have to share. The link list is at the bottom of this post. Pour a cup of tea or lift a pint and join our link party!
Last week I talked about the film Victoria and Abdul. Since one of the settings of that film is Osborne House, Mike shared photos and information about the seaside residence built by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert — their children learned to swim there! Gaele shared three book reviews, all in different times and places: Bernard Cornwell’s latest novel visits Shakespeare’s England, Fools and Mortals; Wartime Brides and Wedding Cakes takes place during WWII, a homefront story set in Bournemouth; The Summer of Secrets is a contemporary story set in the countryside of Dorset and involves ancient artifacts. British actors and stories are showing up in films and shows that began in books and Sim made sure we don’t miss any — Ewan McGregor plays the grown-up Christopher Robin in an upcoming Disney film; Benedict Cumberbatch will star in The Child in Time next month, so Sim read the book; Benedict Cumberbatch will also be on Showtime this spring in Patrick Melrose, based on the novels by Edward St. Aubyn. Becky reviewed the new Matt Haig novel, How to Stop Time. Jean read The Third Policeman by Flann O’Brien for Reading Ireland Month and Believing is Seeing: Seven Stories by Diana Wynne Jones for March Magics.
I, Daniel Blake won Best British Film at the 2017 BAFTA film awards. The title character is recovering from a heart attack and is told by his doctor that he can’t yet return to work as a carpenter. Unfortunately, the government didn’t get the message and Mr. Blake is denied benefits that he should get. The bureaucracy and red tape go on for miles in confusing, catch-22, procedures that get more ridiculous as time goes on and leaves him in danger of homelessness and starvation.
Along the journey, Daniel Blake meets someone who, at that moment, is worse off than he is. He helps single mom, Katie, and her two children, with odd jobs around their new, barely adequate, government-provided flat.
Since a friend pointed it out several years ago, I keep noticing how few films and TV shows are about working class people struggling to stay out of poverty. A very high percentage of Hollywood productions set in contemporary times feature people like the people who create the films — upper middle class or higher. They’re even often set in California. The equivalent in British shows, of course, are all the stories set in London featuring people who work in professional or managerial positions.
My friend got me to watch Winter’s Bone based on that observation. I was resisting the traumatic story. But I underestimated the power of seeing my landscape, Missouri’s landscape, in film. I recognized the plants, the rocks, the buildings, from my childhood in a small Missouri town and from my nearby travels. Representation matters. And, not just to me. It matters that others followed the characters’ steps through fallen leaves, on thin soil, while seeing moss on chert bluffs, just as I do when I hike in Missouri. It matters that the struggles of small town and rural life in the Midwest are represented.
In this film, we get to walk with Daniel Blake through the streets and alleys of Newcastle Upon Tyne. We meet his neighbors and friends who cope with life on the edge of survival by any means. We share his frustration and his anger when the solution is obvious, but the path is obscured for no discernible reason.
I’m grateful that I got a glimpse of lives that I don’t know in urban north England, just as I am grateful that others get a glimpse into lives that I occasionally see for myself in rural Missouri.
I watch these stories with humility, knowing that under their circumstances, I wouldn’t do better and might do a lot worse. My skills and knowledge help me jump some hurdles, but my resources help me jump even more. More than that, my privileges mean that there are fewer hurdles in my path from beginning to end.
This film and a book that my husband is reading, The Radicalism of the American Revolution by Gordon S. Wood, led us to a good discussion about the responsibilities of citizens and the responsibilities of the state in a democracy.
Have you seen I, Daniel Blake? What did you think?
By the way, we understood more of the words after we turned on captions. I suppose it’s no surprise that I’m much better at hearing London dialects than the Newcastle one, which I learned recently is called Geordie.