I, Daniel Blake is an emotional tour de force. A warm, funny, tragic and supremely humane realist drama that serves as a savage indictment of the British social security system and its human toll.
Brit social activist filmmaker and champion of the working class Ken Loach, now 80 years old, came out of retirement to make I, Daniel Blake. He has delivered something special, harnessing all his attributes as a filmmaker to create perhaps the best and most powerful work of his long career.
As a cause and ideology-driven filmmaker, Loach can be preachy and didactic. Indeed, I, Daniel Blake is clearly fuelled by a seething rage at the injustices of a dehumanising social security system tangled in bureaucracy that damages the very people it is supposed to protect. However – and this is key – Loach maintains disciplined control over his rage here, using it in the service of the characters and narrative, and ensuring the drama works superbly in its own right, rather than merely as a vehicle for his social messaging.
Novocastrian Daniel Blake (played with great empathy by Dave Johns) is a 59yo joiner who has been precluded from working on medical advice after suffering a heart attack. Forced to apply to social security for financial assistance for the first time in his life and computer illiterate, he is baffled by the online form-filling and claims process, and finds himself in the farcical position of apparently not being eligible for assistance due to some systemic glitch.
While awaiting appointments with his mostly officious and unfeeling case officers, he meets Katie (a terrific Hayley Squires), a harried young single mother of two kids who has been allotted accommodation in Newcastle due to a lack of suitable options in her home city of London. Hundreds of miles from home and family, she is struggling to cope and Daniel offers to help her and the kids settle into their flat. A mutually supportive friendship develops as they fall foul of bureaucratic dysfunction and find themselves slipping between the cracks of the social welfare system. It seems they have no choice but to resort to desperate measures to survive.
I, Daniel Blake occasionally tips over into sentimentality. For instance, the universally supportive reaction of passers-by to Daniel’s publicly protesting against his treatment at the hands of the bureaucrats by spraying a graffiti testimony on the walls of the Social Security premises is OTT and less than credible.
However, the film succeeds spectacularly well in the things that matter most. The major characters are believable, endearing, and wonderfully performed. The humour works to provide comic relief and to show up the social security system for the Catch 22 maze of contradictions it can be. And most importantly, the emotional power of the piece is overwhelming, culminating in a truly shattering conclusion that left the preview audience in stunned silence, with many in tears.
Despite its heart-rending emotional body slam of an ending, I, Daniel Blake is a warm, funny, supremely humane and entertaining realist drama. Winner of this year’s Gold d’Or at Cannes. Don’t miss.
PS: Should be mandatory viewing for all government ministers and public servants.
I, Daniel Blake will be a certain highlight of the BBC First British Film Festival of 2016, which commences in Perth on October 27 and runs through to November 16.
The Festival highlights and program can be found on the Luna-Palace website.
Movie website: http://www.idanielblake.co.uk/
I, Daniel Blake features: Dave Johns, Hayley Squires, Sharon Percy
Director: Ken Loach
Writer: Paul Laverty
Perth release date: 27 Oct 2016 (see program guide for BBC First British Film Festival 2016 on Luna-Palace website)
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