Director: Ken Loach
Writer: Paul Laverty (screenplay)
Stars: Dave Johns, Hayley Squires, Sharon Percy
Ken Loach’s powerful brand of social realism is mastered beautifully, poignantly and tragically. A simple, honest man’s fight against a system seemingly intent on grinding its claimants into passivity is a brutal and damning, but not unrealistic, indictment of modern Britain.
Daniel Blake (Dave Johns) is a widower and a carpenter. He’s also recovering from a heart attack he suffered whilst working. Daniel’s cardiologist is concerned he might develop an arrhythmia and insists he isn’t fit for work.
He is baffled that he fails the eligibility for Employment and Support Allowance by the Department of Work and Pensions. He is then told to look for work in order to keep receiving benefits, which infuriates him further. He’s forced to fill out online forms, which is almost impossible for the 59-year old Daniel who has never worked a computer in his life.
Whilst at the Job Centre Daniel befriends Katie (Hayley Squires), an irrate single mother who is being sanctioned for being late for a Jobseekers interview, despite them knowing she has just moved to the area and couldn’t find her way to the appointment on time.
Daniel has taken a paternal shine to Katie and her kids and offers to do odd jobs around her new, dilapidated flat. Katie thanks Daniel by cooking him a simple meal but refuses to eat with Daniel and the kids, telling them she’s already eaten. While at a Food Bank, a desperate and starving Katie tears open a can of beans which she eats with her hands, breaking down hysterically. Sobbing, she apologises for her actions and it becomes clear she hasn’t eaten for days. It’s important to note that this scene was based on a real-life account of a food bank in Glasgow.
The film continues to highlight the deepening desperation and frustrations of Daniel and Katie, but offers us more than a glimpse of compassion and decency in the face of their circumstances.
Katie, in particular, has all but abandoned any hope for her own future.
Dave Johns is excellent as Daniel. His compassionate, thoughtful and understated performance of a man trying to do his best in the face of Orwellian and nonsensical bureaucracy is a thing of tragic beauty. But it’s Hayley Squires’ Katie who robs your heart in a devestatingly heartbreaking role.
Loach and long time collaborator Paul Lavery deliver a stunning film with equal parts of beauty and cruelty.
It’s hardly surprising it won Palme d’Or at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival. Loach has a long history of making drama, not just on screen, but in the minds of the public. In 1966 his television play Cathy Come Home was directly responsible for highlighting the plight of the homeless in Britain and the Charity Crisis was formed a year later and also helped gain support for Shelter which was, coincidentally, founded just a few days after trasmission. I, Daniel Blake should have an equal, if not greater, legacy.