It’s been a long time since I can remember leaving a cinematic screening quite so angry. The last time I can remember was in 1979 after viewing Michael Cimino’s anti-war epic The Deer Hunter. This time it was a movie directed by a great British director at the pinnacle of his career. Ken Loach has in my opinion never made a better film, and I’ve seen them all. I, Daniel Blake (2016) is a brilliant piece of film making that sets out to show the shite system that permeates this country and how the ordinary working class people are treated in such a way that degrades and belittles them if they should fall on hard times – and the only people that are immune from this are those protected by the tory government – the rich and powerful - the rest of us can go to hell.
A rare deeply political movie that highlights an increasingly cruel and uncaring officialdom showing the inherent problems with our caring society, the benefits system in general, which is supposed to help those of us that have no where else to turn, the sanctions that are imposed upon people that make life unbearable and the extraordinary lack of social housing which leads to more and more people becoming homeless. All of which degrades working people and leads to the ever-increasing need for food banks. Is this the society that we really want where the bosses can earn 147 times the salary of their workers, where poverty strikes even when you have a job? And God help you if your not computer literate!
Written by Paul Laverty who has written some of Loach’s most potent work including Carla’s Song (1996), My Name Is Joe (1998), Sweet Sixteen (2002), The Wind That Shakes The Barley (2006) and Route Irish (2010) amongst others. It’s Laverty’s spot on script coupled with a director that cares about his craft that makes this latest outing so powerful. Certain sections of the movie can bring a grown man to tears and you realise that what your watching on screen is real life, and confirming that more and more people are becoming just one pay cheque away from the same situation.
The film stars stand up comedian, writer and actor Dave Johns who plays the films main character Daniel Blake. Blake is a widower who has been signed off work by his doctor because he suffered a heart attack. Dan has to prove he is fit to work to receive benefits, which he obviously isn’t and therefore finds himself in an impossible downward spiralling situation through no fault of his own. Katie, played by Hayley Squires, is an unmarried mother who along with her two children moves from a one room flat in a London hostel to Newcastle to hopefully find something better in which to raise her children. She befriends the kindly Dan who does what he can to help her.
The most heart-breaking scenes in the movie involves a sequence in a food bank and rivals the closing scene in Loach’s 1966 TV Play for Today’s Cathy Come Home which goes to prove that our greatest living film director has never lost his virulence dealing with life’s most emotive moments returning to what is increasingly becoming the modern day norm. A desperately important expose of modern day Britain that by winning the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival brought the film to a much larger audience than would normally be the case for such a political subject. Loach was quoted as saying “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” and believe me it does just that with the labour leader Jeremy Corbyn during PMQ’s on the 2nd November criticising the fairness of the welfare system and going on to advised the Prime Minister Theresa May to watch the film – would it really make a difference if she did?