I, Daniel Blake

 

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Social studies made with deep commitment are at the heart of Ken Loach's work and this is a supreme example of that.

 

I, Daniel Blake

Hayley Squires with Dave Johns

 

We can all be grateful that Ken Loach reconsidered his decision to retire from feature-film making which was taken after the appearance of Jimmy's Hall (2014). That film had many merits but it never felt on the level of his best work. I, Daniel Blake does, and I am even inclined to regard it as the most perfect of all his films.

 

With Loach working once again from a screenplay by Paul Laverty, there is much here that is very characteristic. This is a film without frills or fancy effects that comes from the heart as Loach portrays the suffering that can arise from the bureaucracy that surrounds and engulfs those in Britain who seek benefits or a jobseeker's allowance. One such is the 59-year-old widower Daniel Blake, a joiner assured by his doctor that, having suffered a heart attack, he is not fit for work. Nevertheless, he fails an assessment that would entitle him to benefits and, pending an appeal which could take months, his only way to get help is to follow procedures that require him to seek work and to prove that he is doing so, even though his health would prevent him from accepting any job offered.

 

The casting here is brilliant with Dave Johns as Daniel (not the first comedian used by Loach in a serious role to splendid effect) and Hayley Squires as Katie, the single mother from London with two young children who has been housed up in Newcastle where the film is set. The unsentimental bond that springs up when Daniel tries to help the poverty-stricken Katie enables Loach and Laverty to tell a story which, outspoken against the dehumanisation wrought by the system, also portrays human resilience. Also useful here is the fact that the absurdities of bureaucracy have their comic side even if their consequences can be tragic.

 

With a limited use of music and an absolute sense of everyday realism (Robbie Ryan's splendid photography being geared to supporting that), I, Daniel Blake is a marvellous achievement and one which seems to have come before us at the very moment when the issues highlighted by the film are likely to make the nation sit up and take notice. The film is spot on from the start (with questions from a form to be filled in heard behind the opening credits ahead of any images) to the impact of its conclusion. Here Laverty has found the perfect context in which to incorporate words that in other circumstances might have stood out as a self-conscious rendering of the film's message but which, as handled, are as persuasive as they are powerful. If this is, indeed, Ken Loach's last feature film, he has ended his career with a work that finds him on peak form.  

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Dave Johns, Hayley Squires, Brianna Shann, Dylan Phillip McKiernan, Kate Rutter, Sharon Percy, Kema Sikazwe, Steven Richens.


Dir Ken Loach, Pro Rebecca O'Brien, Screenplay Paul Laverty, Ph Robbie Ryan, Pro Des Fergus Clegg and Linda Wilson, Ed Jonathan Morris, Music George Fenton, Costumes Joanne Slater.


Sixteen Films/Why Not Productions/Wild Bunch/BFI/BBCFilms/Les Films du Fleuve/France 2 CinĂ©ma-Entertainment One. 
100 mins. UK/France/Belgium. 2016. Rel: 21 October 2016. Cert. 15
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