I, Daniel Blake, review: ‘Heartbreakingly effective film is about all of us’

PUBLISHED: 15:00 21 October 2016

I Daniel Blake. Picture: c/o EOne

I Daniel Blake. Picture: c/o EOne


Ken Loach’s new Cannes favourite tells the story of a man trapped in a system that refuses to serve him

Ken Loach is a director from over here doing rather well over there. Aged 80, he came out of retirement to make one more film about a decent man trying to get what he is due out of a callous, privatised benefits system, and returned home from Cannes with the Palme D’Or his second. They love his films over there.

Over here, we respect their passion and the invisible skill with which they are made, but we are a little bit wary: like letters in brown envelopes, his films never bring good news. And over the years the news has got worse and worse.

Daniel Blake (Dave Johns), a Geordie carpenter doctors say cannot go back to work after a serious heart attack, is informed that he is not eligible for incapacity benefits and gets trapped in a system that describes him as a client but refuses to serve him. Entwined in his story is that of Katie (Hayley Squires) a young single mum with two kids who has been cleansed from gentrified London, and forced to accept a flat in Newcastle.

Iain Duncan Smith would not normally be a figure associated with great literary adaptation, but his reforms to the benefits systems have created a distillation of Kafka, much truer than that of Orson Welles.

This is standard operational Loach: entirely without thrills or ornamentation, but heartbreakingly effective. Tears will be shed, and if they aren’t it’ll be because you’re too angry, or too despairing at seeing the total collective failure of the last half century laid out before you.

Loach films used to be funny, they used to have earthy working men’s humour. Not any more.

With Ken Loach, the assumption is that you know what you are getting and that what you are getting hasn’t changed much in the half century since Cathy Come Home. But in one important and telling way it has.

The Evening Standard recently reported on how people who would previously have been considered well off are being priced out of posh areas by the international super rich.

Previously, a middle class audience could watch a Ken Loach with a disgust at what was going on below them.

Now they watch with a fear that one redundancy or rationalisation could leave them in the same situation.

We are all Ken Loach characters now.

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