Geordie Daniel Blake (Dave Johns) has recently suffered a heart attack and his doctors have come to the conclusion that he is unable to work and must apply for out-of-work sickness benefits. However, because his heart attack doesn’t stop him lifting his hands above his head he fails to reach the required points to qualify for benefits and thus is rejected. This leads Daniel is great financial difficulty, but he finds solace in helping single mother Kate (Haley Squires) who has recently moved to the area.
Winner of the Palme d'or earlier in the year (the second of Ken Loach’s career having won in 2006 with The Wind That Shakes the Barley) Ken Loach’s I, Daniel Blake is a strongly worded attack on the government and it’s incompetent organizations. The screenwriter, Paul Laverty, interviewed those on benefits to gain an understanding of the events that may transpire, so any event depicted here (such as being declared fit to work despite having a heart attack) is realistic. Loach laments the pointless hoop jumping, such as applying for x amount of jobs even if it’s a job that is of no benefit to you or your career but as long as you’re within the rules, they don’t care. It’s a system that does not tailor to the individual.
Ken Loach’s career has been one where he has depicted the working class with empathy, undoubtedly the relationship between Daniel Blake and Katie and her two children is highly engaging and the audience is sympathetic to their desperate plight. Daniel Blake’s inability to work and his failure to get job seeker benefits leads him down to the path of financial ruin, but his selfless and generous actions towards Katie (whose in a similarly dire situation) makes him a highly likable figure. The two performances of Dave Johns and Hayley Squires are exceptional and their highly empathetic performances allow the characters to become fully fleshed out individuals. Dave Johns in particular not only brings a much needed comic touch to the role but his performance is wonderfully restrained and moving.
The fact that the audience engages with the desperate situation of both Daniel and Kate allows for Loach’s strong criticism of the Conservative government’s lack of focus on helping those in need stick in the mind of the audiences' consciousness. It’s a powerful film from Ken Loach that slams a useless system that doesn’t take into account individual circumstances, but instead throws people into one single canopy.