I, Daniel Blake – Film Review by Pat V.
Writer: Paul Laverty (screenplay)
Stars: Dave Johns, Hayley Squires, Sharon Percy
Winner of the Palme d’Or at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival, Ken Loach’s film is the moving story of a middle-aged man, out of work for the first time, trying to deal with the bureaucracy of the welfare state in the UK. Caught between the Kafkaesque illogicality of the procedural system and the “computer says no” reaction of the social workers (at times scenes are reminiscent of the Little Britain sketches), Daniel reacts with frustration, despair and finally anger.
When we first meet Daniel he is being released from hospital after a serious heart attack that has nearly cost him his life. He is told by his doctors that his heart capacity is much reduced and that he cannot yet go back to work. However, when he applies for disability benefit, he is told by an assistant that, as he can raise his hands to head level and can press a button, he is not eligible for this benefit and must apply for a jobseekers allowance. However, he can only do this when he has received a formal phone call informing him that he has been refused the disability benefit and, he is told, all future applications must be done online, even though Daniel pleads that he does not have a computer and is not able to use one.
At the Welfare Office, Daniel comes across a young woman, Kattie, who has recently arrived in Newcastle from London with her two children and who, like Daniel, has been refused any help at the office. Comrades in misfortune, the four form a friendship and the film charts their struggle to survive a system governed by red tape and a world where nothing comes without a price. Daniel tells us that he is not looking for charity, he is not a scrounger, but the society he lives in strips away his dignity and self-respect, layer by layer, till he is forced to take matters into his own hands.
Dave Johns, best known as a stand-up comic with the Comedy Store Players, is totally believable in his role as Daniel. His confusion and disbelief at the machinations of the system give a documentary feel to the early part of the film. He portrays a man who, in spite of the frustrations and indignities forced upon him, maintains a generous spirit and, at times, humour that are totally lacking in the officialdom he has to deal with. Hayley Squires as Kattie, fighting to create a better life for her two children, captures the fragility and vulnerability of her character and the ensemble playing of the two actors is always moving and engaging.
Ken Loach makes no apology for being a director with a world view and his film’s message has little room for grey areas. Apart from a single social worker, Shiela (Sharon Percy), who puts her job on the line in an effort to help Daniel, all other representatives of officialdom are portrayed as unfeeling cogs in a system more interested in procedure than in people. Conversely, the workmates and neighbours of Daniel are all shown as caring and generous. However, though not always subtle, it is impossible not to be moved by I, Daniel Blake. It is a memorable and important film which touches the heart and makes us look at the world around us in a new light.