Director Ken Loach has fashioned a career making films about England’s working class and underclass. This one won the Palme D’ior at Canne – and will win many more awards. In the context of Brexit and the disenfranchised silent majority, it’s a fascinating perspective.
Not that Daniel Blake (Dave Johns) is an angry man. He’s a Geordie widower who’s very tolerant of his young multi-racial neighbours, looking for a career selling cheap £80 runners. They breed them tough in Newcastle and he doesn’t shy from telling people where to take their crap. Yet, he spends lots his spare time carving wooden fishies for hanging mobiles.
Daniel is on an 1984-type quest to receive sickness benefits after a heart attack, when his claim is rejected. He can’t appeal until the Decision Maker reconsiders his application, which he’s already rejected. He applies for unemployment benefits and has to actively look for work, which he can’t accept, because his doctors have told him not to work. It’s like a realistic, present-day version of Brazil.
He befriends Katie (Hayley Squires) a young mother from London. She’s been sent to Newcastle with her two young kids by their public housing commission, while they try and find her a place in London. Make sense? Daniel finds purpose in helping them adjust.
This is a typical British gritty high-quality film. It still has lots of funny moments: watching Daniel try to use a computer for the first time ever is hilarious, yet telling – how do older people apply online if they have never touched a keyboard? And in Loach’s and Squires’ hands, a broken bathroom tile is heartbreaking. Loach finds so much in the smallest moments.
He’s also found two fantastic talents in Johns and Squires. Their performances are so honest, simple and true, they take you with them. No music, soft filters or close-ups. Loach’s approach is to use simple honesty like a weapon.
It triggers thoughts about how these people have been abused by the system, and how this discontent has been exploited by Brexit, which isn’t going to provide the answers. I could write an essay about it, but this is a movie review… and this is simply the best film I’ve seen this year. It still moves me.
Con’s Score: 5 Newcastle Browns
Con Nats – Talking Arts