I, Daniel Blake is British director Ken Loach’s 26th film and his second to take out the coveted Palme d’Or prize at Cannes. The film continues the director’s renowned leanings toward cinematic realism and social issues.
It begins with the titular character (played perfectly by David Johns) suffering a heart attack at the construction site were he works. The real suffering however begins soon after when the 59–year–old carpenter is told by his doctor to cease working indefinitely. When he is then denied an Employment and Support Allowance on the grounds that the government ‘medical practitioner’ considers him fit for work, he must start an appeals process.
For all the ensuing frustrations and the blatant futility of dealing with lengthy phone queues, defensive and overzealous departmental advisors, and mandatory CV workshops, there are moments of humour stemming from the delightfully guileless manner in which Daniel responds to the bureaucratic hoops he must jump through. After being told that the appeal application form is only available online, Daniel, who is computer illiterate, heads to his local library. When a helpful stranger informs him to click the mouse on the link she is pointing to on the screen, he places the mouse directly against the monitor.
Of course, the humour is but fleeting relief from a reality that is all too familiar to far too many people. It is a powerfully relevant and authentic world that Loach depicts (well beyond its British setting), in which humanity clings delicately to the simple notion that people must help people.
Loach’s socialist ideals offer small glimmers of hope against what is increasingly portrayed as a cruel, impersonal and ultimately flawed system aimed more at persuading people to give up, that it is in supporting them. I don’t recall a moment during my film watching life whereby I was compelled to look down from the screen in shame towards the film’s heartbreaking conclusion.
Rated MA. I, Daniel Blake is in cinemas now.