Ken Loach’s most recent Palme d’Or winner is an incredibly powerful depiction of the UK benefits system, presenting an understanding of its issues from a personal and emotional perspective.
The film follows Daniel Blake (Dave Johns), a carpenter from Newcastle who has recently suffered a major heart attack, has been forbidden by doctors from going back to work, but the state deems him fit so will not give him his benefits.
He is forced instead to attempt (multiple times) to get something from what appears to be a nightmarish system.
He eventually is left only to claim job seeker’s allowance, even though he is not allowed to work. During one of his attempts at a job centre, he meets single mum, Katie (Hayley Squire), and her two children. They strike up a real and charming friendship as they both lean on each other for support and grow closer as they face various challenges.
One of the film’s most powerful assets is its feeling of authenticity (helped along by the fact there are many people in the country living out this story). It really shows the problems with the benefits system, but is more affecting being shown on a personal level than through just statistics. That is what makes this film important. It is a powerful commentary as well as intimate story.
The central performances of Johns and Squire are phenomenal. They create fully rounded characters, side-stepping any stereotypes, to make their portrayals feel like real people. Their humanity is what makes the film so heart wrenching; they feel like someone you could know.
The film is brimming with raw, human emotion and will elicit a wide range of emotions. There are moments of hopeless sadness and anger, but there are other moments of joy, light comic relief, as well as one point in particular where you will want to punch the air out of defiance. It will simultaneously destroy and restore you faith in humanity again.
The film may labour its point at the end with some very on the nose dialogue, but it earns to do so. It is an important film that everyone should see. It manages to portray the harsh realities of the situation, without descending into melodrama. It is an accomplished piece that hopefully will be seen widely.