Daniel Blake is the kind of ‘grafter’ and ‘honest citizen’ we hear so much about from politicians: he is the kind of guy David Cameron said was welcome in his Big Society. But in I, Daniel Blake, a film simmering with quiet rage, Ken Loach brutally destroys the mirage of Conservative rhetoric with the simple story of a man destroyed on his quest for dignity.
After a heart attack makes him unfit for work, Daniel (played by Geordie comedian Dave Johns) is told by the Department for Work and Pensions he has to get a job and so, with no choice but to sign on for jobseekers allowance, Daniel is thrown on the mercy of the benefits system.
The ordeal is humiliating and pointless; Daniel is sent on a wild goose chase for his benefits and left to fend for himself in a totally alien tech-centred world. Again and again he returns to the same job centre, each time more haggard and beaten down than the last, and again and again he is barred by hallow jargon and told the power is with “the decision maker” who takes on the role of the faceless, passive villain of paradoxical bureaucracy.
You will choke up at how kind people can be, and then you will choke up at how such kind people can be utterly destroyed by the system meant to take care of them. In this new austerity Britain the workhouses have been replaced with a tangle of red tape, and one scene in particular that deals with the humiliating ordeal of food banks is utterly heart-breaking.
Both Johns and Hayley Squires, who plays the struggling single mother Daniel befriends along the way, are magnificent. Their performances, Paul Laverty’s writing and Loach’s minimalist style come together to form a masterpiece that will make you horrified at the state of our country. This is a film with the power to really change how people think and should be made essential viewing but, with our present government, I do not see that happening any time soon.
Image: Bruno Chatelin; Flickr,com