Film Review: I, Daniel Blake

Ken Loach’s I, Daniel Blake is a brutally honest depiction of a life on benefits on modern-day Britain. The film’s realism is what packs a punch.

Daniel Blake has been told by his doctors that he cannot yet return to work following a heart attack. Nevertheless, the Department for Work and Pensions deems him fit to work. Trying to sort out the situation, Daniel visits the job centre, where he meets a single mother in a similar position…

Director Ken Loach has long been known for his brand of kitchen sink realism, and I, Daniel Blake typifies this. The film centres on a sympathetic protagonist, and how he navigates an increasingly difficult world. It is difficult not to empathise with Daniel in dealing with a Kafka-esque system, as the situation gets progressively worse.

Above all, I, Daniel Blake is a damning indictment of the UK’s benefits system. Loach highlights the failures of the set-up, indicating how it sets up people to fail. Moreover, through the story of both Daniel and Katie, the film relays the impact that these sanctions have on people. Loach champions the ordinary person, and this latest film is no different.

As the film progresses, the situation becomes increasingly bleak for Daniel. Yet there are still moments of humour to be found in the everyday interactions. Daniel’s friendship with Katie and her children is sweet, whilst his interactions with neighbours are amusing. Other characters are depicted in a less flattering light. The job centre staff, save for one sympathetic employee, appear stern and unbending. They are the face of an unhelpful and uncaring system. Dave Johns is convincing in the title role, whilst Hayley Squires offers great support as Katie.

I, Daniel Blake reaches its climax with a whimper rather than a bang. Nevertheless, this is entirely in keeping with the film’s naturalism; a high-tension ending would have felt out of place. Loach’s target is clear, and he fires successfully.

I, Daniel Blake is available on digital download from 13th February 2017, and on Blu-ray and DVD from 27th February 2017.