Review: I, Daniel Blake

By: A.C.

There is a strange irony in my reporting and reviewing the harrowing Ken Loach film “ I, Daniel Blake” which was released today, Friday 21 October 2016, as many people who have been denied ESA or refused other benefits, would not be able to afford the cost of the cinema. 

Firstly I was a bit concerned that the Belmont Cinema, Aberdeen, would not actually be that accessible to wheelchair users.  I was in Screen One, and the central aisle was stepped, and I was having difficulty seeing any wheelchair spaces at the back of where the main door was, although access to the auditorium was easy enough.  Belmont Cinema state this:

“We have three screens, seating 272, 146 and 65 people. Screen 1 has a choice of six wheelchair spaces in rows N and P at the rear of the auditorium, Screen 2 has ten wheelchair spaces at the front of the auditorium and Screen 3 has five wheelchair spaces at the front of the auditorium.”

So it looks like in the gloom, I failed to see the “ royal box” for wheelchairs in Screen 1.

I, Daniel Blake, is a film primarily made by the BBC and directed by Ken Loach. One does not go to a film theatre to see a cheerful comedy if Ken Loach is the director. It also won the prestigious Palme d’Or at Cannes. The eponymous Daniel Blake is a recently widowed master carpenter, who has a massive heart attack.  He is advised by his GP, Consultant and physiotherapist to refrain from work, but do gentle exercise to build up his strength.   

The film starts with a voice-over of Daniel undergoing a WCA for ESA.  Because he is an honest dealing person, he tells the truth about what he can and cannot do at that point.  The assessor is simply ticking boxes and asking questions.

His ESA application is rejected by the “decision–maker”, and he then tries to appeal, but is told he must apply for JSA, or be sanctioned. The story revolves around his deteriorating situation as he sells his furniture, and he has no money to pay for electricity. He has a run–in with the Police because of unsympathetic Jobcentre staff, as he tries to find a job, learn how to use computers, and write a CV. 

His gentle kindness to others, sees him try to help a mother and two children who have been sent to Newcastle–on-Tyne from London, because they were inadequately housed.   This woman’s journey through the system is also shown.

There are wry moments of humour and ironic truth, as the film depicts scenarios that many will recognise. From use of foodbanks, to sleazy pimps who get their claws into the young mother, as she sells her body in order to survive.

Loach looks at all kinds of injustice, albeit in the passing narrative, from zero hours contracts, to Daniel’s own success at getting a job, which he has to reject because he is not fit to work. The abuse by the prospective employer is recognisable from the likes of the Channel 5 programmes that demonise benefit seekers as he is accused of being a timewaster and shirker. 

Do not expect a happy ending, as this is after all, a Ken Loach film.  I, Daniel Blake is a stark look at what happens when the DWP treats people as a unit of work in an unsympathetic, uncaring way.

It is clear why this film has already won awards. A film that should make Jobcentre workers, MP’s and those who manage the ESA/WCA system cringe with shame and embarrassment.

Review I, Daniel Blake: Released today 21 October 2016. See Mark Kermode Review at BBC.

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