I, Daniel Blake (4 stars)

I, Daniel Blake

Cannes 2016: Ken Loach tackles the age of austerity with predictably stirring results

Fifty years on from Cathy Come Home, Britain feels even more divided as the rich get richer and the poor get stigmatised. It is fertile ground for director Ken Loach and screenwriter Paul Laverty as they tackle an age of welfare cuts, austerity and food banks that harks back to the values and attitudes of the Victorian era.

I, Daniel Blake is a film that wears its heart firmly on its sleeve as it depicts the plight of decent Newcastle joiner Daniel (Dave Johns). Daniel has worked all his life but has recently lost his wife and suffers from a serious heart condition. His doctor has told him that he is unfit to work but that is not the view of a ‘healthcare professional’ who sits in judgement on his assessment for Employment and Support Allowance.

Much of the film’s bleak humour comes from the catch-22 bureaucracy that ensnares Daniel and seems designed to discourage, demoralise and humiliate him. Daniel’s predicament runs in parallel with that of young mother Katie (Hayley Squires) who arrives in Newcastle from London with two children in tow and little chance of a bright future. Feeding, clothing and nurturing her kids will require her to make endless sacrifices.

It’s familiar territory for Loach and Laverty and there are times when it feels as if every character is a mouthpiece intended to supply us with further evidence of the sheer inhumanity and indifference of a state with an instinct to punish rather than assist. Loach seems to have grown a little more sentimental since the days of Cathy Come Home and I, Daniel Blake is unapologetic in the way it tugs at the heartstrings. Despite its flaws and predictability, it’s hard not to be won over by the warmth of its human spirit, as it confronts a subject that sadly remains just as relevant as ever.

Screening as part of Cannes 2016. General release TBC.

I, Daniel Blake

  • 4 stars
  • 2016
  • UK / France
  • 1h 40min
  • 15
  • Directed by: Ken Loach
  • Cast: Dave Johns, Hayley Squires

Newly widowed Newcastle joiner Daniel (Johns) has worked all his life, but when his doctor tells him that his heart condition means he can't work, the welfare system disagrees. Familiar territory for Loach and screenwriter Laverty but despite unapologetic heartstring-tugging, the subject – the system's intrinsic cruelty…