STARRING: Dave Johns, Hayley Squires, Dylan McKiernan, Briana Shann, Mick Laffey, Harriet Ghost, Helen Dixon, Bryn Jones, Laura Jane Barnes-Martin, Kema Sikazwe and Steven Richens
I, Daniel Blake sees the return of Ken Loach taking a political viewpoint of the benefits system in place within the UK, as we follow a carpenter who is out of work due to a major heart attack he had and yet the benefits system deems him fit for work thanks to an assessment by a healthcare professional who didn’t even contact his doctor. Left with no choice but to sign up for Jobseekers Allowance, he befriends a family who have moved into the area, with the mother herself trying to make ends meet for herself and her two kids.
I, Daniel Blake is a film that will feel all too familiar for some. Basically at some point or another, we will be in the same position or know someone in the same position as Daniel Blake on the benefits system and this film depicts it effectively for the most part. The lack of compassion and any sense of common sense within the system comes across just right, with those that step into a world where they can maintain a sense of rule and power over others, though it does show that there is human compassion that helps shine a light in the darkness. While Blake is looked down upon by one particular staff member at the JobCentre, there is one that shows him compassion and manages to get herself into trouble for showing preferential treatment. Dave Johns plays Daniel Blake effortlessly and relatable here in his first major film role, he gives a heartfelt performance whilst there brews a lonely anger underneath the surface until the system pushes him to breaking point. Hayley Squires is also impressive as Katie Morgan, a single-mother who is also getting the roundabout that is rehoused hundreds of miles from her friends and family in London after spending two years in a hostel. As she struggles to keep face and maintain balance on the system, it’s her scene at the food bank with a can of beans leading to her finally losing face and breaking down that will stick with me.
While the film is effective in keeping it as human and relatable as possible, the script can come as heavy handed and whether people that enjoy the film might choose to believe or not, some will see this film as being very manipulative. The cut transitions (fade to black) actually irritated me more than it should have, particularly for how often it is used in the final act. Also, the final act in my opinion was very heavy on the nose in getting its point across.
A film that puts the benefits system under the microscope from two different scenarios I, Daniel Blake is a genuinely raw look at ordinary people struggling to make ends meet and maintain order in a system that is unwilling to help. Dave Johns and Hayley Squires both give great performances but the material that they are working with at times is heavy-handed. Your rating of the film will come down to how you relate to the characters we follow. 8/10