Ken Loach has become almost a genre in his own right.
The British director, known for his realistic, gritty pieces, is the focus for this year’s wonderful BBC First British Film Festival. The retrospective includes his first feature, Poor Cow, and his latest, I, Daniel Blake.
After his last feature, Jimmy’s Hall, in 2014, Loach was contemplating retirement. Film-lovers everywhere can rejoice that he changed his mind.
Daniel Blake (Dave Johns) is a solid, working class Geordie. After a work accident, he finds himself on income support payments for disability, negotiating the bureaucratic labyrinth of social services. He befriends single mother, Katie (Hayley Squires) and the two of them support each other through the exhausting process of rebuilding a life.
The screenplay by Paul Laverty is tight, realistic and, at times, poetic. This is not a relentlessly grim and pessimistic piece, but it certainly doesn’t sugar-coat life on welfare.
Daniel Blake is a cry from the heart. It is a harrowing, intense and warm work, which portrays a system designed to de-humanize. Although the Australian welfare system is certainly more compassionate than the British, there are many parallels. Anyone who has had to negotiate Centrelink will find themselves nodding, screaming and crying with recognition. Loach paints a portrait of a system which brutalizes both those it seeks to repress, and those who are forced to impose it.
This film made me cry. It made me think. And it made me angry. This film is not just important: it is vital.
Drop everything. See it.
Reviewed by Tracey Korsten
Rating out of 10: 10