I, Daniel Blake

Year: 2016
Production Co: Sixteen Films
Director: Ken Loach
Writer: Paul Laverty
Cast: Dave Johns, Hayley Squires

Let's be honest, the whole time you watch a Ken Loach movie you're waiting for something horrible to happen, and he almost never lets you down.

A director for whom the term 'kitchen sink drama' was virtually invented, he portrays the working class in a cinema verite style that's actually a breath of fresh air after the character and story conventions we usually get on movie screens. It's a movie so it needs dramatic weight, but even when the profound statement comes in the form of the pivotal graffiti scene, it's done in a style that's true to the characters and the world they live in.

Daniel Blake (Dave Johns) is a fifty or sixtysomething carpenter in contemporary Newcastle who's a bit down on his luck. He's still greiving the loss of his wife after a few years and after a major heart attack has been told by his doctors he's not fit to go back to work yet. And so, without any income, he sets about applying for the relevant unemployment or injury benefits – crucially, he doesn't care what form it is or what it's called, he just wants to pay his bills until he can work again.

But the British welfare system is one of Loach's favourite antagonists, and when this Baby Boomer bloke (who can barely use a mobile is told to do everything online, endures countless undignified meetings at faceless offices with case workers who all but accuse him of being useless and lazy and waits days or weeks for any kind of resolution) tries to navigate it he's soon floundering.

Along the way he meets and befriends another victim, Katie (Hayley Squires) and her two cute kids. When he sees the poor young woman in the unempoloyment office she's trying to explain to an apparatchik that the bus took her to the wrong place and that's why she's late for her appointment, the uncaring official not bending an inch because the Brazil-like rules haven't been followed.

Daniel gets to one of his breaking points, standing up to shout at the other waiting customers and finding out who's next and whether they mind waiting while Katie gets sorted out. Even though the next customer agrees, the office drones refuse to budge from their scripts and rulebooks, even having the security guard see Daniel out.

Daniel and Katie's family form an unlikely but lovely bond over the coming weeks, both of them getting more desperate as their time and money runs out but helping each other in soft, kind little ways while the system refuses to do so. The scene of Katie opening a can at a food bank and shovelling it into her mouth when she thinks nobody's looking and her subsequent embarrassment is heartbreaking - you've had no idea just how desperate she's been or how bad things have got.

And when the Loach Inc © Bad Thing happens, it's actually a bit less horrible than you're expecting because two lost souls who don't have anyone to listen and understand their lives have found each other.

From what I know of Loach his most common theme is the dispassionate cruelty and inpetitude our bureacratic society treats the underprivileged with. As well as Daniel's quest to just plug the gaps until he can get back to work, there's the madness of Katie's situation.

Having been kicked out of her London flat in the face of increased gentrification the housing authority has moved her all the way to Newcastle, hours away from any possible support network she might have had and making her life exponentially harder and ironically even more reliant on welfare.

If you've ever been on the dole or tried to get worker's compentsation because of an injury you'll nod wryly and occasionally frown and shake your head in anger, and that's the strength of the movie – Loach uses very real people speaking the way real people really do in real places to generate an authentic emotional response in you without any dramatic or overwrought histrionics.

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