A stunning film that shows the bitter hardships endured by everyday, working-class people living under the Conservative Government’s cane

 

As a huge fan of Ken Loach’s work, I was more than happy to travel from Elephant and Castle to Barking in order to see a special screening of I, Daniel Blake (2016) at Barking’s own Showcase Cinema. I can safely say that the hour-long tube journey was worth it. Through Loach’s lens we see a story many of us know only too well; that being the bewildering system in place through which benefits are accessed, and the brutality of the Conservative Government’s benefit cuts.

As the title suggests, the film tells the story of Daniel Blake, a carpenter from Newcastle. Daniel has recently suffered a severe heart attack, and is therefore declared unfit for work by his GP. However, this declaration is not taken into account when applying for Employment and Support Allowance. This means Daniel now has to search for work, despite not being fit for it. On Daniel’s all too familiar journey, we meet Katie. Katie is a single mother of two who has just moved to Newcastle from London, and is also trying desperately to find work. Katie has her benefits frozen after arriving late for her appointment at the job centre in a new town. Meanwhile, Daniel is having to spend thirty-five hours a week searching for work he cannot take, under the threat of having his benefits frozen by a Job Centre ‘Work Coach’.

The film is already being compared to Loach’s early work Cathy Come Home (1966), which also concerns the lack of financial support for working-class people. In Cathy Come Home‘s case however this leads to homelessness, which the film goes on to tackle as a preventable issue. Forming part of the BBC’s anthology series, Loach’s The Wednesday Play was viewed by twelve million people, and even sparked a debate on homelessness in the House of Commons. This comparison is fitting, but for me it is also limiting.

Not all of Loach’s works may leave the same powerful impression as Cathy Come Home, but I feel that the majority of his films follow a very sophisticated and powerful approach that parallels contemporary issues. In Riff-Raff (1991) Loach tackles a lack of safety at work for builders, as well as a lack of security and a lack of work. Within eight years, a review of the Health and Safety at Work act of 1974 had taken place, leading to the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations in 1999. And in Looks and Smiles (1981) we see Loach portray the life of Mick, a man trying to get by in Sheffield under Thatcher’s regime; a film which has been said to perfectly illustrate the dreary and downtrodden atmosphere felt by the north of England at that time. I, Daniel Blake follows a rich tradition in Loach’s films, that have been tackling contemporary problems in an incredibly passionate and human manner.

I, Daniel Blake‘s brutally honest look at the UK’s welfare system has attracted critical acclaim, winning Loach the Palme d’Or award at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. This makes him one of only eight directors to have won the award twice (having first won in 2006 for The Wind That Shakes The Barley). Were Ken Loach to be from a country with more respect for cinema as an art form, he may even have a street named after him as  François Truffaut does in France. The UK Government however has done almost nothing to commemorate his grand achievements.

I, Daniel Blake is one of many gems that can be found amongst Loach’s oeuvre, and arguably solidifies his place as one of Europe’s most important directors. I implore everyone to see this film. I firmly believe it will bring out the common feature we all share: our humanity.

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