I, Daniel Blake (2016) – Review

Director: Ken Loach
Starring: Dave Johns, Hayley Squires, Sharon Percy, Briana Shann, Dylan McKiernan
The Overview
A middle aged carpenter who requires state welfare after suffering a heart attack, is joined by a single mother in a similar scenario. (Source: IMDb)
The Good
Despite winning the coveted Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, Ken Loach’s I, Daniel Blake had somewhat of a limited cinema release. So limited in fact that I was unfortunately unable to get to see it, so this is a rather belated review following its DVD release this week. Hailed as an important and vital piece of cinema, it is a real shame that this film didn’t have a huge impact on UK cinemas, and whilst it picked up the BAFTA for Best British Film (and garnered four further nominations in other categories), it was distinctly absent from the Academy’s nominations.


Whilst undoubtedly this is a film which will resonate more with a British audience, it is a real shame that it didn’t attract the attention of overseas awards also. Many sniffed at the fact this film won the Palme d’Or and I can see their point somewhat; it is a distinctly un-cinematic piece of cinema, however its story resonates far greater and wider than the constraints of the film itself.


I, Daniel Blake is a masterpiece without being masterful in its execution. It is frustrating, dreary and crippling in its mundanity, yet also poignant, powerful and profoundly moving. In Dave Johns’ portrayal of the titular character, there is warmth and instant relatability. He is the “everyman”, and as is intrinsic in making the story resonate so powerfully, we as the audience are instantly able to relate to his plight. As a skilled joiner, Blake seems like a man out of time, and his frustrations over his strong desire to work, and the fact that the system put in place to help him is preventing him from doing this is devastating to watch.


This film is an open and afront address to the social welfare system which is so drastically failing those who need it the most. The constant and never-ending barricade of increasingly impassable brick-walls put in front of both Dan and Katie (Squires) will have you positively screaming out at the screen. This is a film which demands a response. It wants to anger and upset you, it wants to leave you baffled and frustrated, and it wants your experience of watching it, in many ways, to mirror the experience of the characters it portrays.


Performance wise, this film is flawless, and as already mentioned Dave Johns nails the relatability and warmth needed for this character. Hayley Squires is a revelation as single mum Katie, and the much talked about Food Bank scene is amongst one of the most difficult scenes I have watched in recent memory. Her character arc is the one which really shone for me, and whilst it is devastating to see where she ends up, there is also a wonderful believable relationship between her and Johns’ Blake. Two characters, separated by a generation, but both in the same situation, and the way they support each other throughout is profoundly moving.


This film is really, really important, and now readily available on DVD and on streaming services, it is one you should feel compelled to watch.


The Bad
It is hard to consider this as a criticism because it is a necessity, but this film is unbelievably bleak, and for that reason it would be difficult to watch it over and over again. I don’t doubt it’ll hold the same power and resonance on repeated watches, as it is impossible for it not to have that impact, but it isn’t a film you will be rushing out to see again.


The Verdict
I saw this movie and you should too. I, Daniel Blake is a difficult and wholly unsatisfactory watch, but that is entirely the point! The frustration of watching this film barely scratches the surface of the frustrations of the characters, but it makes for a powerful and unbelievably vital piece of film-making. The place this film leaves you is one of anger and feeling unresolved. The realisation that this is a cycle which will keep going and going is painfully bleak. This film has a quiet and unrelenting rage in it, and it leaves you in a place where you cannot help but want to rage against the massive injustice as well. Important and necessary, this is a film I believe everybody needs to see.

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