Director: Ken Loach
Starring: Dave Johns, Hayley Squires, Briana Shann, Dylan McKeirnan
Running Time: 100mins
I, Daniel Blake follows the plight of the titular Daniel as he attempts to get back into work after having a heart attack. Signed off by his doctor but passed fit for work by the Department for Work and Pensions (a “healthcare professional, appointed by the DWP”), Daniel is left in no-mans land in terms of claiming his benefits; unable to work due to his medical condition, unable to claim disability benefit due to the system classifying him as fit to work.
We see this proud, upbeat, friendly, helpful man slowly be dismantled by the bureaucratic systems in place to confound and demoralise those attempting to access them. Hoops are held for jumping through just for the sake of it, job centre workers are held in contempt but most of the time they are just doing their job, but Daniel’s point is that they are all humans, not just numbers, and deserve to be treated that way. On his first trip to the job centre he tries to help another claimant, a young woman and her two young kids, but is lambasted and ejected for thinking outside the box and not following protocol. Slowly Daniel and the young family, Katie and her kids Daisy and Dylan, grow close with Daniel doing what he can to help them with odd jobs around their house and other little things. There is one highly emotional scene within a food bank that not only goes to show how far this has come but the lengths that people will go to in order to look after their families. It has stayed with me since, not being able to shake the sense of helplessness and shock at what had been occurring.
A lot of this must go down to the excellent work put in by Paul Laverty’s script and Ken Loach’s direction. It reveals an almost documentary-like delve into the people and the system, taking its cues from the point of view of the people. It feels very real and the performances from the cast are wonderfully raw and extremely believable. Robbie Ryan’s cinematography is often close and narrow in range, maintaining focus on the person in shot, drawing the viewer into the screen and allowing them to feel the minutiae and the range of the emotions that are being conveyed.
It is a damning indictment of the DWP system to see these people trying their hardest to do what they need to do but are met with inflexibility and a no-can-do attitude and that is what raises the temperature; there is no humanity in this system, no attempt to help them in ways that aren’t already ordained and that is the sad truth to it. This may be a work of fiction but the stories are all too true in this day and age.
This was my first experience of a Ken Loach film, and not a bad one to start with. A social commentary on the effects of the pedantic processes put in place by the Department of Work and Pensions. It is both heartwarming and demoralising at the same time, exasperating/frustrating and totally human. An real eye-opener for a British audience if you weren’t already aware of such treatment and a worthy winner of the Palme D’Or.