Film & TV Film Reviews Muse

Review: I, Daniel Blake

I, Daniel Blake is a lesson in judgment and a call for compassion, says Fraser McHale

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Image: Wild Bunch
Image: Wild Bunch

Director: Ken Loach
Starring: Dave Johns, Hayley Squires
Length: 1hr 40m
Rating: 15

I, Daniel Blake is an endearing piece of work, the tone pitched perfectly, the story compelling and wonderfully crafted. It's not just one of the best British films in recent memory, it's universally a great film. This is Ken Loach's second Palme d'Or win after The Wind That Shakes the Barley in 2006. It stays true to Loach's early films like Cathy Come Home, made back in the 1960s. Even after all this time his films still have that quintessentially British feel that often seems to be missing from modern British cinema.

Daniel (Dave Johns) is a 59 year old carpenter who recently suffered a heart attack, his doctor has ordered him to stay off work until his health improves, however after taking a test from a 'health care professional' he has been ordered fit for work and must apply for a job-seekers allowance and search for work despite not being able to actually accept a job. He's trapped in a purgatory state that's both infuriating and depressing. It's a fierce battle on two fronts; between Daniel and the cruel bureaucracy of the benefits system, and Daniel against the overwhelming onslaught of the digital age. It focuses on his dehumanisation at the hands of the job centre employees, and his relentless mission to maintain his self-respect in the cruel system.

The film also focuses on a family, Katie (Hayley Squires) and her two children. Katie has just moved to Newcastle from London, after spending two years living in a homeless shelter. Daniel helps her in her longing to turn her new house into a real home, performing various repair jobs in the house which is close to falling apart. One of the most remarkable things about the film is that in the face of all the misery and depression, it is still very funny. This is partly down to Paul Laverty's script - based on extensive real life research it creates an honest, realistic, but still amusing view of the world.

There's always a twinge of sadness in the scenes where Daniel struggles with technology. He lives in a world that no longer exists. Give him a plot of land and he could build you a house, but put him in front of a computer and he becomes a child again. Loach does a great job of showing us the dangers of the impersonal 'digital by default' world, but he never forgets to show that in the end people are the problem, and not the technology.

The most harrowing scene takes place in a food bank. Katie, starving and faint, can't stop herself from eating a can of beans. It starts reserved and doesn't attempt to increase the drama in anyway. We simply watch from a distance as the episode plays out. It feels real, and it's heart wrenching. I haven't felt raw emotion like this from a film in a long time. I, Daniel Blake is a personal film, with a clear political argument. It's heartbreaking, inspiring and will instil a restless anger in the audience.

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