For nearly 50 prolific years, British master Ken Loach (Jimmy’s Hall, The Angels’ Share, The Wind That Shakes the Barley) has addressed socio-economic issues in Britain and beyond through the working-class heroes who populate his films. His relatable characters, with all their naturalism and sharp edges, leap off the screen as if real people in real, and usually dire, situations. Most recently, Loach won his second Cannes Palme d’Or with I, Daniel Blake, a timely drama about an ailing handyman’s battle to survive after being denied his government health benefits.
Loach’s latest feature is indeed one of his finest explorations of social realism. The eponymous Daniel (Dave Johns, TV’s Inspector George Gently) is an affable 59-year-old carpenter in Newcastle, England, fighting to collect his Employment and Support Allowance after falling ill. (Government illogic stipulates that his benefits will be taken away unless he looks for work, yet doctor’s orders prevent him from working.) Waiting to sign on at the local Job Centre, Daniel befriends Katie (Hayley Squires, A Royal Night Out), a young single mother who is also being shoved around by the vagaries of the system, having just been relocated with her two kids from a London homeless shelter to an affordable council flat up north. A mutually beneficial alliance, and makeshift extended family, is formed.
Loach and his frequent collaborator, screenwriter Paul Laverty (Jimmy’s Hall, The Angels’ Share), spin a tale that will leave no one unmoved. Working with some of the most powerful set pieces he has ever filmed, the director effortlessly builds empathy for two downtrodden people—honest would-be workers navigating a cruel tangle of red tape while trying to steal a happy moment or two.
“I, Daniel Blake is one of Loach’s finest films, a drama of tender devastation that tells its story with an unblinking neorealist simplicity that goes right back to the plainspoken purity of Vittorio De Sica.” (Owen Gleiberman, Variety)
“It’s often warm and quite funny, but is, at heart, a damning critique of the Tory government in Britain and their belt-tightening austerity measures, as well as a rallying cry for those who fall through the cracks.” (Rory O’Connor, The Film Stage)
“It’s a spare film, muted in colour and unflashy—and it’s all the more powerful and urgent for it.” (Dave Calhoun, Time Out London)