The great Ken Loach’s 2016 film, I, Daniel Blake is a blistering drama that puts the British welfare system under the microscope. Loach has always been a filmmaker with his eye on the problems facing the working class in the UK and this is possibly his most on-point piece yet. Paul Laverty’s script is a sharp, well constructed kitchen sink drama that never even gets close to tipping into the realm of soap opera.
I, Daniel Blake is a small, intimate piece, a riveting piece of filmmaking held together by Dave John’s superb lead performance. He brings a nobleness to the role of Daniel Blake, a fifty-something widowed joiner living in Newcastle. Daniel’s doctors won’t let him go back to work after a heart attack, but government bureaucracy won’t let him sign on for benefits (they believe he’s fit to work).
Blake is caught in a no-man’s land, attempting to jump through the government hoops in order to navigate the complex world of Jobseekers Allowance. All he wants to do is get back to work, but he’s pin-balled from one area to another without ever getting a firm response. Daniel befriends a young mother (Hayley Squires, also excellent), who is caught-up in a similar situation and the two form an unlikely relationship as they struggle to get their lives on an even-keel.
I, Daniel Blake is as funny as it is heart-breaking. This isn’t far-fetched – this is the reality that many hardworking people face in modern Britain. Some know how to play the system, but people like Daniel Blake are honest people who just want to be able to live their lives. He’s not looking for a hand-out, he just needs to put food on the table until he’s healthy enough to get back to work.
A damning indictment of modern Britain, I, Daniel Blake confirms that Ken Loach is a director who still has a deft touch at understanding how to unravel the fabric of the British working class. He night be 80 years old, but he’s a filmmaker that doesn’t pull any punches when ‘socking it to the man’.