When she asked, on my return, what I’d thought of the latest movie I’d viewed at the State, I replied that it was, ‘Very good, but it broke my heart in places.’ You see I could connect with an aspect of it. My lovely lady had spent a year recovering from a non-workplace injury that precluded her from from doing the job she loved as a nurse. Then there followed another ten months, once her medical people deemed she was fit enough to return, to jump through all the hoops before the system actually allowed that to happen in just the last few weeks. She is now back in her rightful place, with her colleagues, in the most caring of callings and I am so proud of her determination not to let the system beat her. She wasn’t ready to be put out to pasture – and nor was Daniel Blake.
Ken Loach movies come from a decidedly left wing bias. He often shoves it up the silver-tails and the powers to be with what he presents and ‘I, Daniel Blake’ caused a minor political storm when it was released in the UK. The film was pilloried over its portrayal of the systems in place that supposedly should act as a safety net; a net that professes to support people like Daniel. He is a no-nonsense Geordie with a gallows sense of humour and straight as a dye. He’s no shirker, but a heart attack has laid him low and his personal health carers are of the opinion a return to work is not in his best interest. Widower Daniel is also a bit at sea after his wife’s death, but he still manages to be chipper and positive – until he enters the domain of the British equivalent of Centrelink. He’s hoping he can attain some benefits to keep him afloat till he can return to his trade of forty years. But a desk drone deems his medical condition is not serious enough to keep him away from a workplace despite his doctors’ orders. So it is decided, in the unfailing wisdom of the petty bureaucracy, that he must apply for jobs he is in no position to accept if successful. When he arcs up at the ridiculousness of this, the bureaucracy turns nasty and he is further hampered in his own efforts to hold his financial ground. In his dealings with the system he encounters a newly arrived on the Tyne single mum who is also being given an unreasonably hard time by the unbending nature of said system’s toadies. Daniel comes to her aid, befriends Katie and does his best to help her and her two kiddies keep their head above water when he is struggling himself. Eventually it grinds them down till they both have to make choices that go against their convictions.
Comedian Dave Johns and Hayley Squires are exceptional as the leads. Daniel becomes very close to Katie, in a platonic fashion, as do her two offspring to him. Brianna Shann, as Katie’s daughter, would melt the hardest of hearts.
So who wins out? Do our two battling heroes or is it the strictures of the beige brigade whose sole role in life, it seems to be, is to sit behind a desk and heap misery upon misery on the undeserving? To be fair, there was one who did not behave entirely like a robotic android and actually had a bit of human kindness – and was hauled over the coals for deviating from strict procedure. It’s a realm in which it seems the hoops to be bounded through are like a labyrinth specifically designed to make people give the game away, drop off the radar and thus not become a negative statistic. I’ve heard enough horror tales here about interminable waits on the phone that drive people spare. And heaven help you if, like Daniel, you are not au fait with computers, especially the notion of completing forms on-line, only having to go through it all again on the phone or in person. This movie is not easy viewing at times for it so accurately reflects what seems to be happening all over the western world as the rich get richer and the governing classes further disconnect from those they are elected to serve.
Described as ‘A fierce and often funny polemic designed to leave a lump in your throat and fire in your belly.’ (SBS), for my money this is one of the year’s best, a rightful winner of the Palme d’Or at Cannes earlier this year.
Admittedly at times the Geordie brogue was somewhat hard to decipher, almost warranting sub-titles, but Loach, together with writer Paul Laverty, have given a sharp shafting to the grey-hearts who inflict their pedantry on those they obviously consider their inferiors. Although the movie was declared as ‘unfair’ by the British Conservative government – it nonetheless seemed a pretty fair call to me.
Trailer for the Movie = https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ahWgxw9E_h4