Ken Loach’s tragic indictment of the UK benefits system highlights the power of kindness and humanity.
So low-key in execution that it feels almost documentarian, Ken Loach’s heartbreaking portrait of the UK’s cruel benefits system is as urgent a political film as we need in these times, but one that also celebrates the importance of human connection and highlights the effect that small acts of kindness can have on a burdened soul. Dave Johns stars as Daniel Blake, a widower with a heart condition that’s preventing him from returning to work. The social welfare department disagree. Daniel enters a Kafkaesque labyrinth of online forms and late-night phone calls from automated “decision-makers”, as he struggles to pay rent and buy himself meals. Meanwhile, single mother Katie (Hayley Squires) has been uprooted to Newcastle and is herself battling with senseless bureaucracy to feed her children. Daniel and Katie form a kinship over their mutual desperation, and subsequently we witness a series of quiet moments both beautiful and horrific as humanity clashes with a profoundly inhuman system.
I, Daniel Blake– for which Loach came out of retirement and was rewarded with the Palme D’Or- has moments of triumph that in any other film would feel muted. In this world of food banks and mouldy ceilings, an all-too-real world not merely confined to Newcastle or Britain (one can imagine a US remake starring Jonathan Banks as Daniel), they are extraordinary. This film is a strong defence for left-wing government and the policies of Jeremy Corbyn, and a scathing dismissal of the British Conservative Party and their unsympathetic economics. Hate takes many forms, in the highest offices of power, but I, Daniel Blake is far more concerned with love and sorrow.