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I, Daniel Blake


Stars: Dave Johns, Hayley Squires, Dylan McKiernan, Briana Shann, Kate Rutter, Sharon Percy, Kema Sikazwe

Director: Ken Loach

It takes a filmmaker with authentic talent to make you forget that you are watching a fictional story and fill you with genuine anger, revulsion and sadness brought on by what you are seeing.

Ken Loach is one of those rare directors whose dramas hit hard, generate and sustain potent emotional impact - without needing to resort to stylish “look at me!” cinematic tropes.

In other words, a genuine auteur.

Here, perfectly complemented by his regular scenarist Paul Laverty’s searing screenplay and a picture-and performance-perfect cast, Loach delivers a vivid, heartbreaking and all-too-credible expose of unsympathetic welfare bureaucracy in present-day Britain.

I, Daniel Blake properly won Palme D’Or at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. (Loach, at 79, was the award’s oldest winner).

Dave Johns is realistically moving as the eponymous 59-year-old joiner who, having worked hard all his life and nursed his dying wife, suffers a heart attack.

His doctor tells him he is unfit for work. A bureaucratic by- the-book local job centre assessor (“I’m a healthcare professional") thinks otherwise. And Johns is refused State Aid and instructed to find work or face the “Decision Maker”, apparently a fate worse than death.

Result? No job turns up and Blake is left holding on by a telephone helpline for an hour and 48 minutes and instructed to go online (“We’re digital by default”).

Then, meeting and helping single mother Kate (Hayley Squires) who is evicted from her home with her two young children before escaping from her one-room London hostel home for a flat in Newcastle, a city unfamiliar to her, they both face increasingly cruel and uncaring officialdom...

Loach’s increasingly anger-rousing storytelling, set against well-used, well-shot (by cinematographer Robbie Ryan) Newcastle Upon Tyne locations tells his story with maximum impact.

The painful message, acidly summed up when Johns states “When you lose your self-respect, you’re done for”, becomes more and more potent scene by scene, and powerfully underlines Loach’s comment, “A movie isn't a political movement, a party or even an article. It's just a film. At best it can add its voice to public outrage”.

Loach’s masterwork is emotionally tough to watch but it needs to be seen by anyone and everyone with a conscience.

Alan Frank

UK/France/Belgium 2016. UK Distributor: EntertainmentOne. Colour.
100 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: 15.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 2, Violence/Horror 1, Drugs 1, Swearing 2.

Review date: 22 Oct 2016