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Film review: I, Daniel Blake – Ken Loach’s powerful social drama is an angry call to arms

Loach’s tale of a carpenter unable to work due to a heart problem and a single mum, both struggling to survive in Britain’s welfare state is a return to form

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 04 February, 2017, 8:04am
UPDATED : Saturday, 04 February, 2017, 8:03am

4.5/5 stars

After his rather benign last film Jimmy’s Hall , it was said that Ken Loach was to make no more features. Thankfully, rumours of his retirement had been greatly exaggerated. Judging by his latest, he has no desire to put his feet up by the fire.

A stinging look at the British welfare state, every bit as significant as his seminal TV homeless drama Cathy Come Home made 50 years ago, I, Daniel Blake shows Loach is as angry as he’s ever been.

Ken Loach out of retirement with new Cannes film festival entry I, Daniel Blake

Scripted by the director’s regular screenwriter Paul Laverty, this Newcastle-upon-Tyne set tale centres on the eponymous working-class carpenter. A decent hard worker, Blake (comedian Dave Johns) has been laid off because of a heart problem – and the doctors have told him to stop working while he recovers.

Trying to claim his allowance, Blake is thrown into a cruel and unforgiving system, a bureaucratic red-tape nightmare that feels like something Kafka dreamt up. Along the way, he meets single mother Katie (Hayley Squires), who has been relocated from London with her two children, shunted into a homeless hostel and is now facing her own poverty-stricken traumas.

Ken Loach looks back on 50 years of filmmaking in 2014 interview

One scene, set in a food bank, is so devastating that it’s likely to scar you – though you suspect Loach and Laverty are hardly exaggerating here about the plight of those struggling hand-to-mouth. Squires is utterly heartbreaking as a woman driven to desperate but all-too-familiar extremes.

The film, which won Loach the second Palme d’Or of his career at the Cannes Film Festival last year, feels typical of his work. Frank, unsentimental but fuelled by good nature and an earthy humour, it reminds you of his great works in the early ’90s like Raining Stones and Ladybird, Ladybird.

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Shot with an unsparing eye by Robbie Ryan, I, Daniel Blake is a triumphant call to arms. If you care one iota about your fellow man, it will make you incandescent with rage.

I, Daniel Blake opens on February 9

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