Directed By: Ken Loach
Written By: Paul Laverty
Cast: Dave Johns, Hayley Squires, Sharon Percy
Runtime: 1 hr 40 minutes
If film is a mirror on society then the sheer volume of recent movies about the ugliness of the post-GFC world is a reflection of the scale of devastation it has caused. Most are essays in poverty that explore the loss of humanity for ordinary people. The film I, Daniel Blake (2016) is another in this genre. It is an intense portrait of an ordinary man who struggles to retain dignity in an Orwellian world. Far from entertaining, it is gritty, raw, and unrelenting.
Daniel Blake (Dave Johns) is a rough-speaking but likable 59-year-old tradesman in Newcastle, England. He is recovering from a serious heart attack and lives alone. Unable to work, he does what thousands like him do in such circumstances: he applies for support allowance so he can pay his bills until health returns. What happens next is not the point, rather it is how it happens that will make you cringe. Form-filling becomes an obstacle course for preventing people like Daniel from getting help and the staff who process him absolve themselves of responsibility through constant referral to the “decision-maker” who is never there. Denied support allowance, he must apply for a job-seeker benefit that requires 35 hours a week of documented job hunting. His protestations are officially sanctioned and he loses all support.
In the midst of his own inhuman treatment by a soul-less bureaucracy Daniel tries to help a single mother with two young children who is also crushed by the system. Katie (Hayley Squires) has moved from a homeless hostel and is living on food handouts because her benefits have been stopped. She finds ‘affordable accommodation’ that Daniel offers to repair and he becomes a father figure. Still unable to buy shoes for her children, Katie finds the kind of work that shocks Daniel but is the last resort for many abandoned by a social welfare system with gaping holes in its safety net. Desperate to help her, Daniel vents his frustration through graffiti on the welfare office wall and briefly becomes an urban hero.
This is a disturbing film that many audiences will find confronting, particularly those who think they live in a caring society that supports people in need. The pace is slow and the dialogue often terse, but that’s how life is at the bottom. The subdued cinematography and colour palette accentuates the drabness of life for the dispossessed. Perfectly cast, the two main actors fill their roles with an authentic voice for countless ordinary people who fall on hard times. There is no joy in this film and whatever humour you find is there to make the story bearable. But in a world that moves inexorably towards a hard-right social conscience, it is a film that cries out to be seen and heard.
Richard Alaba, PhD
Member, Australian Film Critics Association
Have you seen ‘I, Daniel Blake’? Well, what did you think?
10 thoughts on “Guest Review: I, Daniel Blake (2016)”
Sounds depressing. But that’s life, isn’t it? Another fine review, Richard.
Hey Cindy! I think you could say that most Ken Loach films are depressing. Btw, I had the privilege to chat w/ the writer Paul Laverty who’s from Scotland a few years ago, super nice guy!
You are having unforeseen opportunities meeting extraordinary people from your stint covering the MSPFF! Lucky, you. 🙂
Well living in Minnesota I actually don’t get to meet as many people, so whatever opportunity comes my way, I’ll seize it 🙂
“But in a world that moves inexorably towards a hard-right social conscience, it is a film that cries out to be seen and heard.” Such a great conclusion to this review, Richard.
I did hear about this movie and despite it’s depressing plotline, I’m gonna watch it because, well, it’s interesting and surely great.
Yes Richard is a terrific reviewer! I think Ken Loach’s films tend to be quite depressing, but it has a lot of intriguing social issues.
Being a Ken Loach fan, this is something I definitely want to see as he is someone I like as a filmmaker because he makes films about real people.
Thanks for the kind comments. Describing this film as depressing is understandable but a thought that should not dissuade anyone from seeing it. We see films for different reasons and this one is far from entertaining. It is such powerful social commentary without the soap-box polemic that we find in some films. Just an aside: I’m studying a unit in Literary Theory as part of my Masters and am spending a lot time looking at how poetry was the literary medium for challenging the status quo in the pre-modern era (and still is for many). This is precisely the role now taken up by film. Its mass accessibility gives it unrivalled power to talk about the failures of modern society. I’m hoping filmmakers of 2017 are busy creating the stories we need to see and hear as civilisation faces its greatest threats in half a century.
This is great work. Loach remains an urgent voice in cinema; now more than ever.
Great review! You hit the nail on the head and it seems you made a similar judgement as I did in my review. You’re right this film is really depressing but I think it is a must watch for anyone living in Britain, especially with the upcoming election, as Daniels and Katies are on the rise throughout the country.