2016 – UK
Director – Ken Loach
Starring – Dave Johns, Hayley Squires, Dylan McKiernan, Briana Shann
Words – Joe H.
I, Daniel Blake is a return to the arena of social issues in British society from the acclaimed film director, Ken Loach.
The story opens to the scene of our central character trying to explain to an unqualified health adviser carrying out a welfare evaluation that he has been advised by his doctor that he should not be in work following a heart attack.
After having to answer a series of completely irrelevant questions with no opportunity to explain his condition, he is later notified that he has been declared ‘fit for work’, leaving him only with the option to appeal against the decision.
He immediately comes up against the officials of the jobcentre, who only ever insist that the rules must be adhered to and that everybody, regardless of individual circumstance, must follow the same process.
It’s during this that he comes across Katie and her two children, Daisy and Dylan, in a moment where a similar frustration is felt by the lack of understanding from those who are in place to enforce this one-size-fits-all system.
Daniel puts his own situation to one side as his compassion for Katie and her relocation to the north-east following homelessness comes through, as her near daily struggle with ‘eating or heating’ for herself and her family is revealed (a scene in a foodbank is heartbreaking as we see how much she has sacrificed for her children).
Forced to claim Jobseekers Allowance as the only means of income while he fights for the right to appeal against being denied sickness benefit, he must look for work he knows he can’t take, simply to appease the box-ticking of the Department for Work and Pensions.
As the story progresses we see how the situation Daniel and Katie each find themselves in increasingly takes it toll – with Daniel having to adjust to a sudden health condition and its financial impact, and Katie with simply wanting to provide more than a ‘survive’ living for herself and her children, while both try to negotiate their way through a system seemingly designed to move people off benefits by way of sanctions and penalties.
This is a well researched portrayal of the system from the point of the individual and the effect it has on them, covering a subject matter frequently discussed and used in politics, this is a film that could perhaps change opinion on those out-of-work who are so often refered to as ‘workshy’, with others maybe feeling the story plays out as it does simply for dramatic effect on screen.
As this writer (like many people) has personal experience with the benefits system in Employment and Support Allowance following a sudden change in health, the experiences portrayed with our central character from feelings of anxiety and frustration, set in place by a medical trauma and amplified through being trapped in a state of being unable to work yet struggling with a system supposedley there to help those in need is a plight that personally hit home (all the way down to the “shite music” on the benefits waiting line).
Film director Ken Loach and long-time screenwriting collaborator Paul Laverty have produced something so much larger than a feature film, it shows a part of our society where the ability to just survive is becoming increasingly desperate, it confronts unpleasant truths and is unapologetic in its uncompromising seriousness of the subject matter.
This is film-making of the highest order, with standout performances where you will rarely see the raw feelings and emotion of an increasingly hopeless situation conveyed so superbly.
This is the story of an honest and hard-working individual, who is ultimately failed by the system.
A startlingly moving drama on the state and society – one of the best films of the year.