I, DANIEL BLAKE (UK | France/TBC/98mins)
Directed by Ken Loach. Starring Dave Johns, Hayley Squiares, Dylan McKiernan, Briana Shann, Kate Rutter.
THE PLOT: Daniel Blake (Dave Johns) has worked all his life as a carpenter. After a heart attack puts him out of work he tries to claim benefits until his doctor deems him fit to go back to work. Excluded from claiming benefits since a “health care professional” considers him fit to work, Daniel finds his efforts to appeal frustrated. When he meets Katie (Hayley Squires), a young woman with two children who is also being denied benefits, the two strike up a sweet friendship borne out of adversity.
THE VERDICT: Ken Loach returns to the Cannes Film Festival with a a powerful film about those who find themselves ignored by the institutions put in place to help them. The characters at the heart of the film are engaging and warm, but this is a film filled with tragedy and heartbreak.
Dave Johns and Hayley Squires lead the cast here as ordinary people who don’t want to be in the situation they are in, but find it nigh on impossible to get out. Johns makes Dan a gentle man whose constant source of frustration throughout the film is the feeling that he is being treated as a statistic rather than a person. It is this that leads to all of the character’s justified anger, as well as a fierce desire to protect those he sees as victims of injustice. Haley Squires plays Katie – a woman from London who takes a house in Newcastle for the sake of putting a roof over her kids’ heads – and makes the character strong in her convictions, but overwhelmed by the system that seems determined to ignore her. Both actors’ performances feel honest and raw, and the chemistry between them is sweet and warm. The rest of the cast features Dylan McKiernan and Briana Shann as Katie’s young children, Kate Rutter, Sharon Percy and Kema Sikazwe.
Screenwriter Paul Laverty shines a light on the benefits system in the UK, and those who want nothing more than to be self sufficient, but their cries for help are ignored by the State. The dialogue feels warm and comfortable – although the Newcastle accent was subtitled in both French and English for the Cannes audience – and the story plays out in a simple but engaging manner. Tragedies are relatively small in ‘I, Daniel Blake’, as characters find their dignity eroded by a system that ignores them, but this is why these tragedies are so heartbreaking.
Director Ken Loach – whose statement that he has made his last film seems to have been premature – makes ‘I, Daniel Blake’ feel like a look into the lives of ordinary people. The highs of the film are emotion based, as are the lows, and it is this that makes the film so powerful. A feeling of hope in the face of helplessness permeates the film, making the audience root for these likeable characters that could well be any one of us if our luck were to change. There are a couple of issues with pacing here and there however, and some jumps in the timeline toward the end of the film are a little jarring.
In all, ‘I, Daniel Blake’ is a powerful and damning look at what happens to people when the system ignores them. Dave Johns and Hayley Squires are phenomenal in their roles, making ‘I, Daniel Blake’ an emotional gut punch that is heartbreaking in its sincerity.
RATING: 4/5
Review by Brogen Hayes

Cannes Review - I, Daniel Blake
Review by Brogen Hayes
4.0Heartbreakingly honest
  • filmbuff2011

    When Jimmy’s Hall came out in 2014, Ken Loach declared that he was retiring from filmmaking. Now 80, there’s still fire in the old socialist yet. So, he’s come back for one last parting shot at the UK Government – which is itself in turmoil in the new post-Brexit world.

    In Newcastle, former carpenter Daniel (Dave Johns) injures himself and finds himself out of work. A heart condition doesn’t help matters either. He applies for various social welfare benefits to support himself, but he finds himself caught up in a huge mass of Government red tape and bureaucracy. He’s excluded from one particular benefit by a so-called healthcare professional because he’s deemed fit for work. He appeals but finds the process complicated since everything has to be done online – and he’s computer illiterate. In the unhelpful local Jobcentre Plus, he befriends young single mother Katie (Hayley Squires). Sent from London to Newcastle because there was no suitable accommodation, she finds herself struggling to look after her two young children, forgoing meals to ensure that they’re fed. Together, Daniel and Katie form a bond of solidarity as they rail against the System that treats them as just another number and not citizens worthy of being heard and treated like the human beings they really are…

    If I, Daniel Blake is indeed to be Loach’s last film, then he’s certainly going out on a high. Following a 15-minute standing ovation at Cannes, Loach scooped his second Palme d’Or in a decade. It’s well-deserved too, for this is a film that is quietly angry at the injustice of a system that is meant to care… but simply doesn’t. Forever the socialist, Loach has always highlighted inequalities that affect the little guy that lives on the margins of society.

    Daniel Blake is one such guy, but as he touchingly states later on, he’s not a welfare scrounger but a citizen. He finds himself caught in a social welfare trap between being out of work and unable to claim his benefits. The alternative is being tossed out onto the street like so many forgotten older men. Katie’s story is no less affecting. She lives in quiet desperation, trying to maintain a life for her children and resorts to extreme measures. One of the film’s most emotive scenes involves a confrontation between Daniel and Katie over her choice of career. The simple humanity of this scene, portrayed in just a few lines, is a testament to Loach’s ability to understand what drives people to such extremes. The performances here by Johns and Squires are top-notch and affecting without being over-played or tugging at the heart-strings unnecessarily.

    It would be easy to say that Loach is just having another go at the System, but I, Daniel Blake is so much more than just another polemic piece. There’s a simple, undeniable power to it which resonates long after the credits roll. Loach maintains a clear, balanced level of humanity amid such inhumanity. How many other Daniel Blakes are there out there – not just in the UK, but here in Ireland? This reviewer sincerely hopes that Theresa May and her new Government will watch it and effect some change. Loach did it before with Cathy Come Home. Maybe he can do it again. An important, urgent film that demands to be seen. ****

  • emerb

    Ken Loach is 80 years old and after 19 features, he has hinted this may be his last film. If it is, he will be ending on a high note as this may be one of his finest yet, certainly my favourite. Together with his regular collaborator, Paul Laverty, they bring us a powerful, emotional story with a sombre realism at its core. “I, Daniel Blake” tells the fictional story of Daniel Blake, a middle-aged widower in North East England who cannot work or get benefits after a near-fatal heart attack. Occasionally hilarious but often completely heart breaking, it is a bittersweet look at the bureaucratic impact of seeking welfare assistance in Britain. This is an intensely moving film and clearly Loach has not lost his talent for telling stories about marginalised characters with wit, anger and humour.

    Daniel Blake (Dave Johns) is a 59 year old carpenter, a good man – dignified, self-reliant and compassionate. His is a lonely life, he is a widower with no children and has recently suffered a heart attack. The doctors warned him that he’s not fit to return to work so he has to sign on for social assistance, which is deeply humiliating for him. For no good reason, the benefits are denied and the movie takes us through the agony of the appeals process, which is a nightmare for him. The primary focus of the film is the pathetic inadequacies in the State’s
    caring mechanisms. Everything has to be applied for online, but he has no computer, no smartphone, no internet, and cannot master the terminals in the public library, which crash or freeze just as he is reaching the end of the process. When Daniel sees a young mother Katie (Hayley Squires) being denied basic support for herself and her two young kids because she is a few minutes late for her appointment, he intervenes on her behalf. This sparks an unlikely friendship between the pair and he takes on a patriarchal role in her life. She is quick-tempered and fragile but quickly warms to his gentlemanly, caring nature and he attempts to find her steady work while still fighting his own corner. He might be useless on a computer but he’s very handy and even shows up to repair their dilapidated flat and give them tips on how to keep it warm. Katie leads a rough life, she was dispatched from London to Newcastle with her two children by a welfare service that claims no affordable housing exists in the capital and she
    sees no future for her family. At first, there’s an element of comedy to Daniel’s plight, as he attempts to deal with the countless barriers, red-tape, phone calls and useless staff but eventually he is forced to reveal his more rebellious side. He lashes out against a system which he believes is designed to not work.

    Dave Johns, a stand-up comedian, is the ideal choice for the central character. With his welcoming smile and gentle features, he shows us the character’s humanity, mischief and resilience in a powerful performance. He brings a welcome comic touch to the drama and his easy going nature provides a nice contrast to the more frantic and desperate Katie. His warmth and pride never allow him to feel sorry for himself and he never seeks pity or charity from others. Squires also shines in her role and her adorable 2 children – Daisy (Briana Shann) and Dylan (Dylan McKiernan) are credible, heart-warming and cheerful despite their tragic circumstances. The friendship between Daniel and Katie, and
    the children’s fondness for the old carpenter give the film some of its best finest moments. In fact, all the people in Daniel’s live are caring, including his amiable neighbour who’s always up to some devilment but once he sees that Daniel is struggling, he offers genuine concern and support. Loach’s movies are always centred on realistic, no-frills characters and situations but this film stands apart from your average kitchen sink drama. It’s not just a bleak, welfare struggle, depressing drama, Loach and Laverty extract much humour from the sheer lunacy of the regulations. It’s perceptive and funny in its depiction of Daniel’s quest to receive his much needed allowance. There’s a comic set-piece in which he struggles to master a computer mouse which reminds me of my own Dad (who can barely turn on a computer!) and it’s just hilarious. Against that, the movie is tragic and one scene that stands out takes place in a food bank where the proud Katie endures an awful humiliation. It is a heart breaking reminder of the unthinkable things which happen in the messy and ugly world of poverty. The film also makes some points about how little society values the wisdom and experience of men like Daniel. He may be no tech whizz and he may not be wealthy but he has other gifts which are far more valuable. He will look out for others and offer his time and kindness when needed. “I, Daniel Blake” is emotional, authentic and with two very convincing performances, this is one film you should make an effort to seek out.