8.5 out of 10
Release date: 21st October 2016
Director: Ken Loach (Jimmy’s Hall / The Angel’s Share / Route Irish / Looking for Eric / The Wind That Shakes The Barley / Tickets / Ae Fond Kiss / Sweet Sixteen / Bread and Roses / My Name Is Joe / Carla’s Song / Land and Freedom / Ladybird Ladybird / Raining Stones / Riff Raff / Hidden Agenda / Kes / Poor Cow)
Cast: Dave Johns, Hayley Squires, Brianna Shann, Dylan McKiernan, Kate Rutter, Kima Sikazwe, Stephen Clegg, Sharon Percy, Micky McGregor and Malcolm Shields
Writer: Paul Laverty
Trailer: I, DANIEL BLAKE
At last, here is the Ken Loach film that everybody in the UK must see. We’ve long read about Ken Loach being the political watchdog of British cinema, but whilst he does put out interesting movies its been a long time since he’s put his finger on the pulse and made a film that is for vital viewing. Perhaps this is the first film since Ladybird Ladybird and Raining Stones that tackles the problem of everyday people fighting to stay above the poverty line and speaks to us rather than gives us a history lesson to learn from.
This time Loach and his long time collaborator Paul Laverty take a good look at our ridiculous benefits system that makes signing on a labyrinth for those who grew up without use of the internet. Daniel Blake (DAVE JOHNS) is one such citizen who is recovering from a heart attack. A talented carpenter, he’s assessed by a bureaucrat inspite of presenting medical evidence and told that he must actively seek work. He must sign on the internet because Job Centre Plus is ‘online by default’. Faced with a a largely unsympathetic wall of apathy he edges closer and closer to the poverty line. He befriends a single mother, Katie (HAYLEY SQUIRES – BLOOD CELLS) and her two young children (BRIANNA SHANN and DYLAN MCKIERNAN) who are similar victims of the labyrinth and nonsensical benefits system. Having been relocated to Newcastle (where the film is set) from London in order to have reasonable housing for her kids, she also struggles valiantly to make impossible ends meet. The processes are so long and difficult to follow the weeks pass and the money runs out.
The film highlights how the state is largely failing the older generation and a whole swathe of the population with exclusive systems and no access to appropriate help where and when needed. Dave Johns and Hayley Squires put in note-perfect, gripping performances giving heart and soul to their fight to (basically) live, they are supported by a large and excellent cast of unknowns too. Their story shows that if you can’t play the game there are few good options available as an alternative. Even those with work struggle to live – the zero hours contracts are briefly covered when Daniel’s neighbour, Kima Sikazwe complains about only being needed for 45 minutes at his job in a depot and earning a sum less than £4.00.
The plot certainly goes for the big moments but like Boyz N The Hood, another film calling for social change on a national scale, there’s no room for subtleties. The story takes the characters on a journey through job centres, pointless career workshops, hospitals, food banks, police stations and more. It really needs to be seen, but then what can we do? Art as protest is crucial but how can it impact a change when there are so many that live this struggle. They don’t want to watch films like this, they live it. A film like I, Daniel Blake is a fictionalised window through which the chattering classes can peer and shake their heads in disgust. But its existence is still needed as it raises a much needed awareness. You can help in a small way, if you don’t already, pitch in a few bits to the food bank during your weekly shop. That’s what I’ll be continuing to do and making sure I never go within a million miles of a dole office. Because that’s the scary part, we don’t know when we’ll be dependent on the state. Scarier than any horror. See it ASAP.
8.5 out of 10 – As cinematic as most of Ken Loach’s other films (not very) BUT this one’s vital viewing. Relevant to everybody, old and young. Find a way to see this today.
WHAT HAVE I SEEN THAT ACTOR IN BEFORE?
- Hayley Squires: Giantland, Away, Blood Cells
- Kate Rutter: The Arbor, Oranges and Sunshine
- Sharon Percy: Wolfblood (TV)
- Mickey McGregor: Wolfblood (TV)
- Malcolm Shields: Crying With Laughter, Death Defying Acts