If everything had gone to plan, this film wouldn’t have seen the light of day. Ken Loach’s previous movie, Jimmy’s Hall, was intended to be his swan song. And though that was a decent enough film, it was hardly up there with his finest work.But clearly, a look around ‘Benefits Britain’ – as engendered by the Tory party’s heartless policies – has stirred the veteran director out of retirement. I, Daniel Blake is not so much a film as a protracted howl of anger – and it’s one of the finest polemics I’ve seen on the cinema screen.
Dan (stand-up comedian, Dave Johns) is a carpenter who has recently suffered a serious heart attack. Told by his doctor that he’s not fit to go back to work, he signs on, but soon discovers that the ‘decision-maker’ has deemed him ‘fit for work.’ Of course, he has no income, so if he wants money, he’ll have to apply for Jobseeker’s Allowance. This obliges him to trudge around Newcastle looking for jobs that he isn’t fit enough to accept even in the unlikely event that he gets them. During one trip to the Job Centre, he encounters Katie (Hayley Squires) a young single mother with two kids to look after. She’s recently been relocated from London to Newcastle and is desperately trying to find work. Dan befriends her, and becomes a kind of surrogate grandfather to the two children.
All the familiar Loach tropes are here – non actors, giving every scene a shot of verité, semi-improvised dialogue and a story that meanders from incident to incident with little in the way of a traditional story arc. But what there is in abundance is a sense of simmering anger, an incomprehension that life in this green and pleasant land could have come to this sorry state of affairs. There are scenes here that would move the most implacable viewer to tears (a scene set in a food bank is particularly affecting). If this should prove to be Loach’s final film, it’s a hell of a leaving card.
This should be required viewing for every politician in the land.