We’re going to be honest. The Sloth wasn’t particularly keen on watching I, Daniel Blake. Yes, we know director Ken Loach is ‘important’ and should be talked about with furrowed brow and much referencing of ‘social realism’, but sometimes that makes us want to trough a family pack of Revels with a side order of Keeping Up With The Kardashians. However, because we are an honourable Sloth (and we loved Looking For Eric), we parked our furry posterior and settled in.
Daniel Blake (Dave Johns) is a manual worker and a recent widower who has been signed off work by his doctor due to a dodgy ticker. Tyneside social services dispute his doctor’s opinion and have ordered their own assessment by a ‘healthcare professional’ of dubious qualification, resulting in Daniel being pronounced fit and ordered back into the workplace and off benefits. Worried for his health, the computer illiterate Daniel tries to protest the ruling but finds himself swept into an uncaring digitised system he doesn’t understand, his protests to robotic social services workers going unheeded as they endlessly point him back ‘online’.
One morning at the benefits office Daniel encounters Katie (Hayley Squires) a young mother of two recently arrived from London. New in the city, Katie has been refused her appointment as she arrived late and is unceremoniously thrown out by the staff. Daniel offers Katie a sympathetic ear and his workman’s skills to help fix up her flat. So begins their friendship – Daniel offering practical help, Katie offering companionship – as they attempt to fight their way through an unjust social system.
I, Daniel Blake couldn’t be more Ken Loach if it carried a copy of the Socialist Worker and broke into a rendition of ‘The Red Flag’. It’s an angry film and not one for subtlety – it doesn’t so much hammer its points home as bludgeon you over the head with Mallet’s Mallet – but it also has humour and warmth. You can’t knock it’s passion and you certainly can’t knock the performances – we defy you to watch the scene of Katie hitting rock bottom in a food bank and not be moved. In an era when movies are created purely to make money, it’s refreshing to see someone using film to rock the establishment boat. Well done Ken.