For the uninitiated, Ken Loach is one of the most prolific and quintessentially British Directors that this country has ever seen. His particular brand of socialist realism has been coursing through this country’s film industry ever since his incredible filmic debut “Poor Cow” back in 1967.
In my house growing up it was generally considered that his adaptation of Barry Hines’ “Kes” was, and still is, one of the greatest films ever made and he has made countless other bonafide classics since then, far too many to list here! It seems absolutely incredible to me that nearly 50 years later that Ken Loach can still make something like “I, Daniel Blake”. Something so wonderfully entertaining yet unbelievably heart wrenching and ultimately hugely important and relevant to the current political climate in this country.
The story revolves around a late in life carpenter, played by the wonderfully naturalistic Dave Johns in his film debut, who has recently had a heart attack and has been sworn off work by his doctor and physician. He must now try and make his way through the confusing and inpersonal British benefits system to somehow make enough money to survive until he has recovered. Along the way he befriends a single mother and her two kids who have just moved up to Newcastle from London and they bond over the shared experiences within this rigid and unforgiving system.
The story is told with a stark minimalism and a simplicity, as we have come to expect from Ken Loach, however the performances are just as deep, emotional and resonant as you could possibly hope for. The central performance as Daniel from Johns is palpable. Seeing as it was entirely filmed on location in Byker, Newcastle where Johns was born he was able to channel something inherently Geordie yet remains entirely relatable to a crowd from all walks of life. The other performance of note is Hayley Squires, who is also relatively new to the scene, as Katie. She is the emotional heartbeat of the movie, the one in who we see both tremendous strength and a terrified lost soul. The relationship between Daniel and Katie felt real and safe and it was a heart wrenching rollercoaster seeing their story play out.
This is a funny, touching, thought provoking piece of cinema. It doesn’t have all the bells and whistles that the general cinema going public tend to seek but what it does have is a heart and a message that is way stronger and more important than 90% of the films that have released so far this year.
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