I, Daniel Blake (MA 15+)

Strong coarse language.

UK 2016
Director: Ken Loach
Featuring: David Johns, Natalie Ann Jamieson, Mark Burns Colin Coombs, Harriet Ghost
Running time: 101 minutes
Original review: Louise Keller; Urbancinefile.com
Extracted by: Peter Gillard

The utter stupidity of the bureaucratic process for health care, unemployment and job seekers’ benefits is clearly showcased after Daniel suffers a major heart attack while on a scaffold working as a carpenter. Eager to get back to work but under strict instructions from his doctor that he is not ready yet, Daniel submits himself to the system as he applies for benefits that will keep him afloat. We can understand only too well the frustrations of waiting on a phone queue endlessly, trying to respond to irrelevant questions and shunted from process to process as he tries to co-operate and follow every instruction.

Daniel can build a house but has no idea how to operate a computer; the scene in which Daniel tries to make out the functions of a computer as he tries to fill out an online form rings blatantly true. His friendship with Katie , a young single mother with two young children, begins at the unemployment office; she is being treated with the same disdainful attitude. The development of this friendship forms the heart of the film; Daniel puts aside his problems, picks up his tool kit and helps Katie not only to fix up her house, but offer her badly needed emotional support.

The emphasis shifts to Katie’s life and problems; the scene at the food bank when she is unable to control herself, is extremely touching. Desperate times require desperate measures and Katie is faced with difficult decisions. We also start to learn more about Daniel: he tells her about his deceased wife Molly and we can imagine her clearly from his description. She was far from perfect, but he ‘loved her to bits’.

The counter-productive nature of the bureaucracy that is supposed to assist, not hinder people in need is clearly showcased. Soon, Daniel too, becomes more needy and desperate as bills mount up and the options diminish. The moment comes when he cannot accept the ludicrous process any more: his desperate stand is one of dignity.

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