This is a blistering, emotionally draining, mercilessly honest look at a side of Britain – ever growing- that remains well out of sight from the bubble of wealth and class that the country likes to present to the world. This is the Britain that the government either demonizes or pretends not to exist: a distressing world where a maze of Kafka-esque processes, driven by a pernicious ideology bent on emasculating social services, have been designed to intimidate, dehumanize and frustrate people out of the system (for which various private companies are well rewarded)
The movie centers around the twin stories of the eponymous Daniel Blake (Dave Jones)- a decent, hardworking widower, who has been forced into seeking social assistance due to a heart attack which, on doctor’s orders, prevents him from working – and, Katie (Hayley Squires), a single mother of two who’s been kicked out of her flat in London and forcibly rehoused in Newcastle, a place where she knows no one and has no work.
The movie follows the downward spiral of these two as they try to find their way in a system deliberately stacked against them. Blake, computer illiterate in a world that only allows digital communication, is deemed to be well enough to work by one program, despite the professional opinions of his doctors. This as a result forces him into seeking out a job by another government program (Jobseeker’s Allowance). Should he get a job, which he does, he cannot accept it, because he’s not well enough to work. Its not just “Damned if you do, damned if you don’t”. You’re simply damned. And as he bounces between one department and another, waiting in line or hanging on the line (for hours) and trying to make sense of pages of asinine questions… to await the judgment of a faceless Decision Maker, he receives neither assistance nor money. And the bills mount.
Katie too, her children shivering in a cold flat, their shoes falling apart and forced to rely on Food Banks, grows, like Blake, increasingly desperate. Desperate enough and dehumanized enough to do just about anything.
This is the everyday story of tens of thousands of Britons, essentially shunned by a vicious government.
The brilliance of the movie lies in Ken Loach’s (Jimmy’s Hall, The Wind That Shakes The Barley) low-keyed, understated naturalism (the reality needs no gloss) and writer Paul Laverty’s tremendous ear for the cadences of ‘real world’ dialogue. We’re never in the presence of stock characters, there to ‘represent’ a point or make a political statement. Loach’s characters – effortlessly brought to life by Dave Jones and Hayley Squires – are living breathing people; and the tenderness…the emotional honesty of their relationships (even that of some of the faceless bureaucrats) are what contribute toward making this such a deeply affecting, such a profoundly humane, but angrily revolutionary film.
For in the end, as the lights come up, once the trembling sob in the heart is brought under some semblance of control, there is only one emotion left: anger. Howling, raging, pick up a brick and throw it anger. And if Daniel Blake’s cry of anger is his shout to defy the system’s perniciousness, to proclaim his humanity: he’s not a client or a number or a statistic or a burden on the state; he as a person, an “I”. Then our cry at what’s going on in this country must join that of Kurtz in the Congo: ‘the horror, the horror”
And the disaster of Brexit hasn’t hit as yet!
I, Daniel Blake. Dir: Ken Loach. Writer: Paul Laverty (Jimmy’s Hall). With Dave Jones, Hayley Squires. Production Designers: Fergus Clegg (Jimmy’s Hall) and Linda Wilson