Back to his best – ★★★★★
Ken Loach’s Palme d’Or winner is an emotional roller-coaster about a man let down by his country.
The film tells the story of Newcastle man Daniel Blake’s descent into poverty after suffering a heart attack and entering a kind of social welfare “limbo”. He isn’t sick enough for “Employment and Support Allowance” support, but is also medically restricted from working which means “Job Seeker’s Allowance” isn’t really an option either. Along the way he encounters a young single mother Katie (Hayley Squires) and her two children Dylan and Daisy, who he takes under his wing.
Comedian Dave Johns plays Blake, a former joiner who is now restricted to basic home and hobby woodworking while he waits for the doctors to give him a clean bill of health. Johns instantly feels relatable and manages to craft a character that is so warm and sympathetic, that, as he becomes such a source of support for Katie and begins to put her welfare before his own, you begin to worry for him in his fight against a confusing system.
Paul Laverty’s script is compiled with help from whistle-blowers working within the welfare system in the UK. It doesn’t mention Europe or Brexit or the Tories but the quagmire that the UK now finds itself in is first and foremost in your mind as you watch I, Daniel Blake. Will an exit from Europe magically mean the North of England has more money, prosperity and jobs? Will a single-mother like Katie be properly supported with flexible education and manageable work options?
Anyone who has ever dealt with the department of social protection in Ireland will likely have a number of stories of the ridiculousness of the process of receiving support from the state. Just showing up to a session on CV creation or cover letter writing will ensure your support is retained for another few weeks, in a system that oftens bears very little relationship to the rigours and challenges of modern day recruitment and job applications. This is the nature of the beast and when a system is designed for the masses it’s obvious that it will likely fail those at the edges of the the group, throwing a strange mix of blame and shame at those who need more help to get to re-employment or ongoing support.
And of course the biggest delight from I, Daniel Blake is in knowing that at the age of 80 Ken Loach is now back making some of the best films of his long and illustrious career that now spans over half a century. His u-turn on retirement following the release of the disappointing 2014 effort Jimmy’s Hall was one of those news stories which filled film fans with mixed emotions as you wondered if he still had “it”. Thankfully he’s shown here with his Palme d’Or in his hand that he most certainly still does.
Released in Irish cinemas on October 21st 2016