Director Ken Loach brings his next human study to the big screen, and I’m going to start this review off differently because it strikes a cord with my own life, in a way. I am a disabled man living in Dublin and for a long time I’ve had to deal with the Irish Social Welfare people in order to survive through the hard times. I, Daniel Blake deals with a man in his late 50’s who has had a heart attack and must go through the British Social Welfare system in order to survive. He wants to return to work, but just needs some help to get through his recovery, sadly the British and Irish Social Welfare systems are unfeeling, inhuman, horrid creatures of hell. Just a personal opinion.
Daniel is met with the staff of these services that are meant to help him, but they are the most unemotional beings you’ve ever seen in your life. They make him run from pillar to post to get a form filled out online. Daniel is that generation that is stuck between having the internet and not knowing one end of a computer from another. As all the Welfare forms are online he finds himself stuck between a rock and a hard place. During a trip to the Welfare office he meets a young girl and her two children. They strike a friendship up and help each other heal themselves.
I, Daniel Blake is the first film that actually broke my heart while watching the film, the reason is that Ken Loach has this almost documentary style of producing dramas. The pain and suffering that is caused by the system that should be there to help makes you so angry, and it’s shown perfectly, but this clarity of the system is blood boiling for the audience. You’ll feel depressed through the film because it’s very grim, but the odd witty comment that is thrown in lightens your world. Every performance in the film is extremely natural which adds to the feeling that you’re watching a fly on the wall documentary, but this is drama. Daniel is played by Dave Johns, a recently widowed man recovering from a heart attack, but the heartless British Social welfare system won’t allow him to live while recovering. They want him back to work. Daniel is frustrated by the system and it boils over a few times during the film. Dave Johns is just amazing, given a touching and funny performance, you instantly see Daniel Blake as a good man and someone who you care about straight away. His relationship with Kattie, played by Hayley Squires, keeps him going. They are both going through the system together. Kattie has two children who will always be fed before she eats anything. She’s willing to starve and sell her body to get them the things that they deserve.
One of the scenes that will kill you emotionally, as it had me in tears, is when Kattie goes to a food bank to make sure her kids have something to eat, and the hunger is so strong that she opens a tin of baked beans right there and then. It’s the most powerful scene in any film this year.
While I, Daniel Blake is a stinging and realistic indictment of the British, and let me tell you it’s close to the Irish, systems of Welfare that are meant to help people it’s also for me the drama of the year. It’s depressing in some parts I’ll grant you that and not an easy watch because of it, but Loach can do these films with such a gentle touch that you fall for the characters straight away. I’m not normally a fan of his work, it can be a little too grim, but this is one of those films that will find their way onto the top of a lot of critics lists at the end of the year.
While I, Daniel Blake isn’t a cinema film, meaning you don’t have to watch it on a big screen, I feel it gives us what the cinema is meant for. It’s a story of a simple man, who wants to work, but for the sake of his recovery from a heart attack just needs a hand up. His relationship with Kattie saves him from quitting, and Kattie is a fighter. The final scenes of the film had me in tears again with hope falling to loss. One of the most emotional films I’ve been to this year and many years before this. Do not miss!
Director: Ken Loach
Writer: Paul Laverty
Stars: Dave Johns, Hayley Squires, Sharon Percy | See full cast & crew