Ken Loach returns to cinema after a two-year break with another gritty British film on offer, and once again, his disappointment at British culture is clearly evident.
Daniel Blake, the film’s audience surrogate, is a man who is both sympathetic and totally oblivious to the rise of digital technology; but most importantly – he’s a victim. A victim, that is, to the unforgiving nature of Britain’s welfare system.
Daniel Blake, played tenderly by Dave Johns, is thrown into the abyss that is Britain’s benefits bureaucracy. His heart condition means that he’s unfit for work, yet he’s denied the possibility of obtaining a Jobseeker’s Allowance – a source of income that will keep him off the streets. He must fight case his to the ‘decision-maker’, who interestingly enough Loach depicts as God-like, the head of the system who essentially holds the lives of millions in his palms.
I, Daniel Blake is a film that is pouring with realism, held together through remarkable performances from the generally unknown and non-professional cast. Loach’s close companion and writer Paul Laverty brings forth a screenplay spilling with authenticity, creating a dialogue between the screen and the viewer by illustrating the rigidity and uncompromising nature of Britain’s benefits system. It’s systematic and refuses context; it has no compassion nor does it show any sense of consideration – yet its victims are very much antonymous to this notion. Those struggling against the system are unified and must work together in order to survive, and this is clearly evident in the established friendship between Daniel and Katie (Hayley Squires), a single-mother-of-two who is equally as desperate as her counterpart. Daniel and Katie adopt a father-daughter relationship throughout the film, with Daniel charmingly helping out with her kids whilst she is forced to resort to crime and self-humiliation in order to provide. Simply put, those you see on the screen aren’t ‘characters’; they are ordinary people with very real struggles.
The film expertly deals with both humour and heartbreak, attempting to make lightness out of circumstances cloaked in darkness. Yet despite Loach and Laverty’s attempts to lighten the mood, they both also succeed in creating a great sense of anguish for the viewer. There truly are some heartbreaking moments in the film. The food-bank scene and the conclusive denouement will leave you in tears, but it will also make you open your eyes to a system that plagues our country, and the lives of so many of its victims. Life is a bitch, after all.
A real eye-opener.
Loach’s film doesn’t need to tell a story, it doesn’t even need to go anywhere…it simply just needs its voice to be heard. And Ken, your disappointment rings loud and clear.