Congratulations Ken Loach – and THANK YOU for giving people with invisible illnesses a voice.
Though doctors and specialists can confirm that he is indeed gravely ill, the fact that Dan doesn’t display any outward signs of sickness works against him, and a faceless assessor declares him fit to work.
CANNES FILM FESTIVAL: Ken Loach’s I, Daniel Blake is the best example of what’s possible when subject and storyteller are in perfect sync. If the rumours are true and it does indeed turn out to be the 80 year-old’s final film, I, Daniel Blake will be a poignant, unfussy end to a 50-year career that’s been devoted to agitating against the rigged contest between Bureaucrats and Battlers.
The film is a fictional account of a Geordie carpenter’s attempt to seek a disability pension in the wake of a massive cardiac arrest. Cheery widower Daniel ‘Dan’ Blake (Dave Jones) is well liked by his neighbours and colleagues, who all express genuine concern that his heart of a lion is so vulnerable to relapse. Dan brushes off their offers to help with shopping, errands, anything, and he naturally assumes that after a forced constitutional funded by a brief stint on benefits he’ll bounce back into work, no worries.
Bad news for Dan is that reflexive wit and a positive outlook don’t play well within a system geared towards limiting access to the public purse. Though doctors and specialists can confirm that he is indeed gravely ill, the fact that Dan doesn’t display any outward signs of sickness works against him, and a faceless assessor declares him fit to work.
“A fierce and often funny polemic designed to leave a lump in your throat and a fire in your belly.”
When old school Dan says he can’t use a computer and thus won’t be able to lodge an appeal online, he’s told there are forms designed for luddites and dyslexics… available for download via the Gov.uk website. His maddening battle with a labyrinthine public service would be an absurd comedy if the scenario weren’t backed up by empirical research. Writer Paul Laverty’s script grew from investigations into jobcentres, benefit sanctions and food banks, and the film’s credits extend a general thank you to a range of anonymous government informants.
British standup Jones brings instant likeability to the role of plain talking Daniel. “When you lose your self-respect, you’re done for,” he declares, when faced with compounding humiliation from an Orwellian archetype at the local jobcentre. Dehumanising doublespeak gives him the shits, and he calls out unfairness when he sees it, such as when a single mum has her pension sanctioned because she arrives late for her appointment. Katie (Hayley Squires) is newly arrived in Newcastle, having been relocated to public housing from a damp single-room in a London homeless shelter. She and Dan strike up a friendship, and he becomes a proxy Grandad to her little family.
Squires is brutally relatable as the gutsy pragmatist shielding her two lovely kids from her shame. Her breaking point, when it comes, is unbearably sad; her mortified response, all the more so. The movie’s key scene occurs within the dreaded food banks that were set up as a temporary measure to cater to an expanding crisis. It’s the movie’s turning point that audiences will recall long afterwards, and which encapsulates Loach’s fury at the prevailing discourse (by no means limited to Britain) which divides people into skivers and strivers.
I, Daniel Blake is one of Loach’s best films in years. It’s not a perfect film, but that’s perfectly fine; it’s a fierce and often funny polemic designed to leave a lump in your throat and a fire in your belly.