From daily The Morning Star in Britain:
Tuesday 6th September 2016
The film I, Daniel Blake is enough to make you weep – with rage
I LOVE a good cry at the cinema.
Every year, a few weeks before Christmas, I head out to see It’s a Wonderful Life, that massively manipulative seasonal classic about knowing your place and the importance of giving up your hopes and dreams so you can thwart the evil plutocrats in your home towns. It gets me every time.
But last week I saw a film that made me cry for a very different reason. No schmaltz, no improbable Hollywood happy endings, just the latest — and, if some of the rumours turn out to be true, possibly the last — Ken Loach-directed film.
I, Daniel Blake is the latest in a stellar career stretching back to Cathy Come Home, his groundbreaking 1966 BBC teleplay about homelessness. It is unashamedly and brutally polemical, which has meant it’s been rather sniffily received by some of the broadsheet critics, despite winning the Palme d’Or at this year’s Cannes festival.
Loach himself noted the savage irony of his film winning an award at such a glitzy Establishment event. The tale of a Newcastle carpenter caught in the byzantine benefits system after suffering a heart attack, the film opens with Blake in a seemingly unending phone conversation with a “health professional,” going through a box-ticking exercise to ascertain whether he is entitled to sickness benefit.
Inevitably, he is declared fit for work, in spite of his doctor warning him to avoid the exertion of physical labour.
Blake, understatedly played by stand-up comedian Dave Johns, cheerfully heads to the jobcentre to get everything sorted out. After all, he’s been paying his taxes and national insurance for decades. He wants to work, he’s just unable to at present.
What follows is a savage indictment of the state of our welfare system, one that might have been unexpectedly stark to some of our more mollycoddled critics but will be familiar to the millions who have had any dealing with our increasingly privatised and outsourced state.
With rising horror, Blake realises that he has been dubbed a “shirker” by the Tories’ attempt to divide the working class into “useful” and “useless” categories.
His inability to use a computer, and his attempts to find work the old-fashioned way, mark him out as a troublemaker within the bright, bleak walls of the jobcentre.
He makes a friend in Katie, a single mother from London who has made the move to the north-east after being socially cleansed from the capital. She’s far away from her family and support network and her kids are struggling to adapt to the new area.
Without giving away any spoilers, it’s safe to say that this story doesn’t end happily. There are a couple of particularly brutal scenes, scenes that I could still see behind my eyelids days later. As polemic, Loach’s film is an undoubted success. It’s impossible to watch it without feeling a renewed sense of fury at what collective indignity our government is unleashing on the working poor.
The film succeeds artistically too, containing as it does some extraordinary performances and successfully sustaining crucial themes.
One is of powerlessness. The jobsworths, like the security staff at the jobcentre and the boss who chides a more sympathetic worker for helping Blake with his online application, may be the “strivers” according to current lore but the film makes it clear that they are as trapped as anyone else.
And the other theme is of dignity and the quiet power of maintaining it in the face of extreme, intentionally brutal provocation from an increasingly dystopian state.