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I, Daniel Blake

I, Daniel Blake

Released 21 October 2016
Director Ken Loach

Dave Johns, Hayley Squires, Sharon Percy, Briana Shann, Dylan McKiernan
Writer(s) Paul Laverty
Producer(s) Rebecca O'Brien

United Kingdom, France, Belgium
Running Time 100 minutes
Genre Drama
Rating 15A

Cuts and bruises.

It’s fitting that at the age of 80, Ken Loach should make one of his most powerful films about the importance of a day’s work to one’s mental health and self-respect. I, Daniel Blake is a brilliant and brutal castigation of a welfare system which can take this crucial outlet away from a man and give him nothing in return but red tape and humiliation.

After suffering a heart attack, fifty-nine year old carpenter Daniel Blake (Dave Johns) has been ordered to take some time away from work, lest his condition worsen. When he attempts to claim benefits, the State decides, against any medical evidence, that he is fit for work. As Daniel can’t actively look for work and can’t claim sickness pay, his payments are cut. In a similar situation is single mother Katie (Hayley Squires), who has recently been moved from London to Newcastle to avail of social housing. Daniel strikes up a friendship with Katie and her children, as they both struggle to survive their desperate situations.

Since the earliest days of his career, Loach has sought to give a voice to the disenfranchised people of society. His work is polemical but also personal – the characters he creates alongside writer Paul Laverty are fully rounded people, not totems. Blake is a brilliant example of this. His story is horribly mundane – a nice man who worked his whole life in a practical industry, suddenly robbed of his health and forced to tackle the unkind world of bureaucracy. A man jumping through hoops at the whim of the system, just so he can afford to pay the electricity bill. Johns gives a heartbreakingly subtle performance, his frustration palpable but his common decency always present. Squires meanwhile gives a beautifully brittle performance and the friendship between Daniel and Katie is beautifully drawn.

As you would expect, I, Daniel Blake is a film that brings to the fore many emotions; it stirs your blood, breaks your heart and even manages to raise a wry smile at times. A powerful and important piece of work that should be required viewing for anyone in a position of power.

- Linda O’Brien