If ever there was a must see film, this is it. It won Ken Loach his second Palme D’Or at Cannes, which meant that distributors were emboldened to show it in the UK and it has done well at the box office in cinemas that do not always show social realist films. It is a state of the nation film, reminding us of who in our society is suffering most from austerity measures. It is challenging but it is also a film that is full of heart and humour and, finally, hope. It divided the critics on, predictably, political lines in this country but has been a huge international hit.
Daniel Blake (Dave Johns) has worked as a joiner most of his life in Newcastle. Now, for the first time ever, he needs help from the State. A widower with no children, he has recently suffered a heart attack and receives an Employment and Support Allowance. But then, for no good reason, his benefits are denied; the state wants him to go back to work — even though his doctor is on record as saying he can’t. The movie takes us through the agony of the appeals process, which is a much bigger nightmare than it sounds, because all Daniel is trying to win is the right to an appeal. He’s forced to jump through hoop after hoop, to hurry up and wait, and some of the demands are so unreasonable (he mustn’t just spend 35 hours a week applying for jobs he couldn’t take anyway; he must prove that he did) that the inescapable conclusion is that the system has been engineered to toss people off benefits. It’s designed, in no small part, not to work.
Blake crosses paths with a single mother Katie (Hayley Squires) and her two young children, Daisy and Dylan. Katie’s only chance to escape a one-roomed homeless hostel in London has been to accept a flat in a city she doesn’t know, some 300 miles away. Daniel and Katie find themselves in no-man’s land, caught on the barbed wire of welfare bureaucracy as played out against the rhetoric of ‘striver and skiver’ in modern day Britain. If I, Daniel Blake had been made 20 or 30 years ago, the personalities of those in the welfare office might have been more colorfully villainized. But the film’s despair arises out of its perception that it’s the whole impersonal system that’s to blame. The layers of bureaucracy, which have only been added to with the Internet, are designed to wear people down.
The relationship between Blake and Katie is portrayed in a very touching way, with Blake taking on a grandfatherly role in trying, within the limitations of his situation, to take care of her and her children. These moments of resilience underline the film’s humanity. The lead actors both won awards at the British Independent Film Awards.
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Venue: William Loveless Hall