I, Daniel Blake 15A
When Newcastle labourer Daniel Blake (Johns) suffers a heart attack he's informed by his doctor that he can't return to work any time soon. This doesn't wash at the jobcentre whose unseen 'health care professional' deems him fit to return to work, and if he doesn't his benefit will be terminated. As Daniel is forced to 'prove' he has been looking for work (even though he can't accept any work given) he strikes up a friendship with Londoner Katie (Squires), a single mother of two who has just moved to Tyneside and is struggling to make ends meet.
Director Ken Loach is back to doing what he does best. After a ten year dalliance exploring other genres (war with Wind That Shakes The Barley, thriller with Route Irish, and a heist adventure with The Angel's Share), the director returns to the grim-up-north social realism drama. Loach and regular collaborator Paul Laverty are certainly out to make the blood boil with this gritty award-winning film: The system doesn't listen to Daniel's plight, doesn't care about his situation. He's only advised to enter the Kafka-esque bureaucratic labyrinth of appeals and endless forms, which have moved online now and of course Daniel doesn't know which end of a computer is up. But while Daniel might rub his brow in frustration there’s an air of defiance about him. A refusal to be beaten down. Dignity in the face of humiliation and desperation.
Meanwhile Katie has her own problems. We first meet her as she's merely minutes late to lodge a form (more forms!) for unemployment benefit - she has just moved North and doesn't know the city - but the jobsworth Nazis at the centre won't listen (a wonderfully evil Sharon Percy among them). With little cash coming in and no electricity in her flat she ensures her two kids are fed while she survives on fruit. "I ate earlier," is her refrain. At a food bank she is given a tin of beans and can't help but open the tin right there and guzzle what she can before she's spotted. It's not easy viewing, this.
But wait, it's not all about the misery. There is great warmth and tenderness to be found in Paul Laverty's screenplay - a hope that doesn't soften the film's hard-hitting message: the system might be f**ked but people are, generally speaking, kind. Daniel's neighbours – two twentysomething wideboys selling stolen trainers – are genuinely concerned for him; the manager at the supermarket Katie is caught stealing from not only lets her go but allows her to take the stolen goods with her; the sympathetic ladies at the food bank; the man who helps Daniel fill out his form online. There's even a balance at the jobcentre as another employee (Jamieson) runs the risk of stoking her boss' ire by bending the rules to help Daniel.
It might veer into Yosser Hughes territory (a sequence where Daniel is forced to hand in CVs to various businesses) but this is Ken Loach, pulling wonderful performances from his two leads, back to his best
Review by Gavin Burke | 14:50 | Friday 14th October 2016 | Movie Review