Ken Loach’s film on austerity Britain makes the blood boil, says ALAN FRANK
I, Daniel Blake (15) Directed by Ken Loach 5/5
PRECIOUS few directors can create work whose subject and emotional impact fill you with justifiably burning anger and make you forget that you are watching a film.
Ken Loach is one of those talented few and, that rarest of film-makers, an authentic auteur.
He’s perfectly complemented by his regular scenarist Paul Laverty and an outstanding cast and this vivid, all-too-credible exposé of hostile welfare bureaucracy in present-day Britain rightly won the Palme d’Or at this year’s Cannes film festival.
Dave Johns is truly moving as the 59-year-old carpenter Daniel Blake who, after working hard all his life and nursing his dying wife, suffers a heart attack. His doctor rightly tells him that he’s unfit to work.
But when Blake applies for sickness benefits because he’s unfit for work, bureaucratic by-the-book jobcentre apparatchiks, led by a callous “health care professional,” refuse state aid and force him to look for a job.
He’s threatened with facing “the decision maker,” apparently a fate worse than anything. Left holding on by a telephone helpline for an hour and 48 minutes, he’s told to go online — “We’re digital by default” — but, no iPad, no contact.
Then he meets and helps single mother Kate (Hayley Squire), who’s been evicted from her home with her two young children. She’s escaped from her one-room London hostel home for a flat in Newcastle, a city totally unfamiliar to her.
It’s there that they both face an increasingly cruel and uncaring officialdom.
Loach tells this powerful and deeply moving story without resorting to affectation. His imagery, employing aptly chosen Newcastle locations — illuminated impeccably by cinematographer Robbie Ryan — enhances his storytelling rather than simply decorating it.
Blake’s poignant statement: “When you lose your self-respect, you’re done for,” richly underlines the painful message.
“A movie isn’t a political movement, a party or even an article. It’s just a film. At best it can add its voice to public outrage,” says Loach.
True. And anyone with a conscience — especially jobcentre jobsworths — has to see Loach’s masterwork.