Title: I, Daniel Blake
Director: Ken Loach
Starring: Dave Johns, Hayley Squires
Runtime: 1 hr 40 Minutes
What It Is: From acclaimed director Ken Loach comes this astonishing story of triumph and adversity in modern day Britain. Daniel Blake (Dave Johns) has worked as a joiner/carpenter for most of his life in Newcastle. Now, for the first time ever, he needs help from the State. He crosses paths with single mother Katie (Hayley Squires) who is battling to keep her two young children fed. Daniel and Katie find themselves in a Kafkaesque nightmare striving to pull themselves out of the welfare bureaucracy of modern-day Britain.
What We Think: The drama centers on 59-year-old Daniel Blake who has been a joiner/carpenter for all his life who is now recovering from a heart attack. The film starts with him answering an absurd questionnaire from one of the DWP appointed ‘health care professionals’ which is actually really funny owing to the absurd nature of the questions he is tasked with. However, this assessment deems him fit for work and therefore ineligible for disability benefits. As Daniel tries to explain his administrative predicament to a legion of unfeeling government employees he is then faced with a humiliating, uncaring and infuriating bureaucratic process which made me angry.
Around the time of the release of the movie it caused a huge stir here in the UK and prompted debate at the highest levels of government. The last occasion Loach made such an explicit comment on the state of the country was in 2010 with Route Irish which was about contractors fighting in the Iraq war. The immediacy gives I Daniel Blake a real horrifying authenticity and his battlefield is the job center in which he must humiliate and degrade himself to try and plead for his benefits.
The rules and regulations he tries hard to confront brought to mind Terry Gilliam’s film Brazil. His Doctor says he absolutely cannot work yet he is told by the state he is fit for work and must start a 35 hours per week job search or risk sanctions. He has never used a computer before and he becomes flustered with the amount of online forms he must complete, one heart-wrenching scene sees him constantly getting timed out time and time again.
The film although bleak sounding is actually not, even when faced with this faceless mechanism, the film celebrates community and the spirit of people wanting to help one another. According to a computer, he is simply a number, a ‘blip on the screen’ but as we uncover his story we realize he is a good man, a caring man whose spirit can’t be broken that easily.
In his trips to the job center Daniel meets Katie a young single mother from London also struggling against the tide of bureaucracy. Hayley Squires who plays Katie offers a similarly soft humane touch to her character but I found that her story span into more outlandish directions, never really making her feel grounded.
I think the crucial point of the film is that we should not hate Daniel’s opponents, after all, they are mere cogs in what is a very faulty machine. In fact, in one of the most telling scenes, a worker finally takes pity on Daniel as he tries to fill a form in online however she is soon taken aside by her Manager who loudly chastises her for showing the slightest bit of empathy. It’s best to tow the line when you’re on the inside it seems.
Our Grade: A+, This is a film which resonates way beyond the confines of the cinema and it’s pure anger and humanity will stop you dead in your tracks. In my opinion, this is one of the most important films of the last 15-20 years and the scene at the food bank is one of the most moving scenes I have ever seen and even now when I think about it it brings tears to my eyes. Loach makes his political points with brutal directness, but it’s important that you see this. It is powerful and of moving relevance which ensures that it will stay with you for a long time. An immediate classic.