I, Daniel Blake - This Movie Deeply Rocks
Dir: Ken Loach
Starring Dave Johns, Hayley Squires, Sharon Percy
After recent sojourns to Scotland (The Angel’s Share) and Ireland (Jimmy’s Hall), the ever-threatening-to-retire (NO!!) Ken Loach has returned to what he does better than anyone – addressing the state of the nation he calls home, in a political with both a small “p” and a big “P” kind of way. (He also picked up yet another – well deserved – Palme d’Or along the way for his troubles.)
I, Daniel Blake is not a state of the nation address. But it is an address to the state the nation finds itself in. The thrust here is the benefit system in the UK (especially its over rampant use of sanctions), and its ability to marginalise and potentially destroy those that need to make use of it – something that it was clearly created not to do. Daniel Blake (a superbly inspired choice of stand up Johns), a carpenter, a man with a skilled trade, but sufferer of a recent heart attack, finds himself caught up in this system. It would be easy to call him a “victim” of said system, but as Paul Laverty’s fine, fine script is keen to emphasise, it’s not about victims. It’s about filling out another 52-page application form to prove that you are not such – very possibility in the hope that you won’t bother and disappear from at least one column of statistics (even if that marks your fate as ending up in another column of same.)
Down at the JobCentrePlus, Daniel also meets Katie (a brilliant, touching Squires) and her kids, recently relocated from London to Newcastle (stats again), and between them they form a bond more human than anyone or anything around them.
The saving grace of Loach’s film lies not in any polemical attack, but in the avoidance of it. This is a small film about everyday people, lacking the support society has supposedly promised them, but facing it with great warmth and humour. You will laugh at this film a good many times. But, if the screening we attended is anything to go by, as the titles roll, the room will be full of people pretending they have a cold or something in their eye.
There are two or three genuinely heart-breaking moments in I, Daniel Blake. But they’re not heavy-handed; they offer no solutions or revolutionary agenda. They just sneak up on you and completely devastate you. And remind you why Ken Loach has been ploughing this field for so long. And best not stop any time soon.
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