Ken Loach may now be 80, but his latest film I, Daniel Blake shows that he remains as impassioned – and angry – as ever about the ever widening gaps in modern society between the haves and have nots.
This time, Loach and his longtime writing collaborator Paul Laverty zero in on the bureaucratic minefield that people must now navigate in the UK (and most other countries these days) when claiming welfare benefits. Our eponymous hero Daniel (Dave Johns) is a middle-aged carpenter from Newcastle who has been recovering from heart surgery and has been told by his doctors that he is not yet healthy enough to return to full-time employment.
However, when he is assessed by an “expert” from the social security department, he is deemed fit to work, so while he waits for his appeal to be heard, Daniel must prove that he is actively seeking a new job to ensure he still gets some form of welfare payments. His struggles are contrasted with those of young single mother Katie (Hayley Squires) from London whom he befriends. She and her young kids have been relocated to the north because of the pressures on social housing in the capital, but she is also struggling to make ends meet and is being forced to contemplate desperate measures to keep her family fed.
As is often the case, Loach draws beautifully naturalistic – and ultimately heartbreaking – performances from his largely unknown leads, and while the underlying message is bleak, there is still room for laughter, in particular Daniel’s attempts to grapple with the mysteries (to him) of the internet and the Kafka-esque civil servants he must contend with.
Not everyone will agree with Loach and Laverty’s politics, but few will fail to be moved by their account of the life in the age of austerity – and the toll it is taking on ordinary folk.
In cinemas: November 17, 2016
Starring: Dave Johns, Hayley Squires, Sharon Percy
Directed by: Ken Loach