A blistering and emotional incident of faceless bureaucracy is made by veteran British film maker Ken Loach in his superb new movie, I, Daniel Blake, which deservedly won the Palme d’Or at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival.
The central character, Daniel Blake, suffered a heart attack at work. Until he is fully recovered he has been strongly advised by his surgeon, GP and physio that he should not attempt to seek gainful employment. After being forced to answer a series of irrelevant questions, a health specialist from one of the companies the government has outsourced its welfare education tests to, notifies Daniel that he is fit for work. Thus, like so many other people, he finds himself caught up in a system of complaints and appeals, waiting for something to change.
At first Daniel’s good humour carries him through. He may initially appear to be a loner, but when he meets single mother Katie and her two children, his warmth and compassion shines through. For a time his own predicament takes a backseat as he fights for her rights – the scene in a local food bank is heartbreaking as we see how much Kate has sacrificed for her children. But Daniel’s case seems to be going nowhere and exasperation with the system finally pushes him to express his exasperation publically.
This is a deeply humane and all-two relevant movie from the 80-year-old Loach and probably his best film since Cathy Come Home, aided of course by a gritty, unsentimental script by his regular collaborator Paul Lavery. Made in the manner of a dramatised documentary, it is angry at a system that demeans people, but has enough compassion for some of the people employed by it whose desire to help those in need is hindered by callous administrators.
Of course the film wouldn’t have the impact it has without two excellent central performances. Dave Johns, previously known as a stand-up comedian, skillfully balances Daniel’s Veneer of gruffness with whip-smart humour, while newcomer Hayley Squires is very moving as Kate.
This undoubtedly is the best British Film of the year and shows all too vividly that no one should be treated as a statistic.
Released nationwide on 21 October 2016