By Phillip Guy Ellis (Northampton, England)
Star – Ken Loach
Genre – Drama
Run Time – 1 hr 40 minutes
Certificate – 18
Country – U.K
BAFTA – 1 Win & 2 nominations
Awards – 24 Wins & 30 Nominations
= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =
Director Ken Loach is a bit like public service – we know we need it but we don’t like paying for it, and with Ken’s films it’s often public money funding them, I Daniel Blake, no different. It was, however, the winner of the 2016 Best British Film at the BAFTAS and Loach’s second Palme D’Or – and, of course, another shameless polemic from the grammar school lefty that has little or no experience of the world he whines about. Although adorned in garlands across the likewise champagne socialist European film festivals it did just £9 million pounds box-office, the lowest for the ‘Best British Film’ BAFTA winner since Fish Tank (2010) but still good money for Loach, his most successful film to date on all counts. He really is an indulgence.
The film sets out to dissect the somewhat unfair digital bureaucracy of the current British benefit system for unemployed jobseekers, or the requirement of the sick, if they can work, to find suitable work. The politicians and well off will always use the results of the weaknesses they create in society through their greed to attack that weakness and the unemployed an easy target at election time. Extreme wealth creates extreme poverty and the two have to co-exist, the unemployed in bronze medal position behind Pedophiles and the homeless for targeted right wing abuse.
Most young people living in the era of zero hours contracts and temporary agency work will have experienced the welfare system at some point and know how horrible and stressful an experience it can be, especially under the Tories where the government seized the excuse of the 2008 crash to attack the whole welfare system with hard engineering and savage cuts that costs lives, some 10,000 more people committing suicide than normal over a four year period when the government made it harder for people to claim welfare and exist on it between 2010 and 2014. I don’t care who you are. The stress of being unemployed and having to scrape and beg for money to survive will break you in the end.
• Dave Johns as Daniel Blake
• Hayley Squires as Katie Morgan
• Dylan McKiernan as Dylan Morgan
• Briana Shann as Daisy Morgan
• Kate Rutter as Ann
• Kema Sikazwe as China
• Steven Richens as Piper
• Gavin Webster as Joe
Qualified Joiner Daniel Blake (Dave Johns) has recently lost his wife and is also recovering from a heart attack, a broken heart in more ways than one. Nearing his 60th birthday he now has to navigate the welfare system in his hometown of Newcastle until fit to return to work. He has grafted all his life but is his doctor has signed him off sick so he can recover mentally and physically. But the government has privatized the assessment side of just who is entitled to Employment Support Allowance (The Sick) and Daniel facing a work capability assessment for the sickness support allowance. His cardiologist and doctor say he is not ready for work but the ESA contactor disagrees and say he is fit to work, meaning he now has to appeal against the decision and make a claim for Jobseekers Allowance in the meanwhile, less money and a lot more hassle. The private contractor is on a bonus for reducing the numbers on the sick and so no surprise they try to sign everyone on to JSA, regardless of the consequences.
The frustrations are immediate as Daniel struggles with the computers and digital application process for benefits and the stress in the Newcastle job center. A young single mom pushed out of London because of the bedroom tax is also having a bad day as Daniel loses his rag and publicly sticks up for her when they cancel her claimant appointment because she is late for the interview and so a potential sanction. Daniel feels really frustrated for her and begins to help the family by repairing stuff at their house during her sanction, teaching them how to heat rooms without electricity and crafting wooden toys for the children.
During a visit to a food bank, Katie is overcome by hunger and breaks down, soon caught shoplifting at a local supermarket for sanitary towels and razors. The security guard gives her the benefit of the doubt and suggests she meet a woman who can help her out with a job.
After numerous attempts to claim JSA online Daniel has his first work coach meeting on Jobseekers. Even though he is recovering from a heart attack he is expected to spend at least 37 hours a week looking for work. He finds possible work but has to refuse that job at a scrapyard because his doctor will not allow him to work yet? When Daniel’s work coach tells him he must work harder to find a job or be sanctioned, Daniel loses it again and demands to know where his appeal is on his ESA claim and storms outside with spray paint to let the world know about that frustration. A kink in the system has him by the balls.
Most people signed on the dole today do not want to be there but that’s the best deal they can get. They may be caring for kids, or relatives with dementia, or suffering an illness of their own they know they want get help on ESA for, like crippling anxiety, or maybe unemployable due to prison or disability, paradoxes created by being unemployed or circumstance. Either way if you can’t work, you can’t work. Very few people other than career criminals chose the dole as a lifestyle. Yes people do chose not to work if the jobs available won’t cover their rent, child minder and living expenses but that’s common sense. One-in-four adults are economically inactive at any one time.
Ken Loach’s take on the system is fair but exaggerated, making the Newcastle Job Center people look like tyrants and the claimants as gormless plebs. Needless to say the Newcastle job center complained about their representation, even though they allowed Ken to use the premises in the movie. They should know by now up north how it works with Ken. He finds some people in those institutions with negative views on them and makes that film.
The system is harsh and paradoxical at times and was especially cruel under Ian Duncan Smith. But there is also a natural balance achieved with claimants and benefit staff that if you do what you are told and make their life easier you won’t suffer sanctions and so they won’t get shouted at in return. If you are not trying to find work and document your search then you do deserve a kick up the bum. I don’t think the harsh new regime has put that many more people back into work and saved money that were on the sick but it’s that vote winner and so will remain. The irony is the money save is sacking DHS staff through digitization and putting them on the dole. In Finland and Fife they are trialing basic income where you get 7 grand a year and you don’t have to look for work, the idea being it saves on employing job center staff, I guess.
As far as an entertaining film goes it’s not that interesting, as is the case with most Loach movies, all about his anger and sense of injustice of the put upon in the world than an interesting and intelligent movie. He is a bit unfair on how the system works by landing all the problems of it with these two guys in the film although in my experience of the dole I was surprised how right wing the staff was. I think if you are on the role and looking to offload your guilt of being unemployed then you will get more from this film as it’s on our side, as you will if you are a Corbyn lefty, but it doesn’t put both sides. In my time in the system they rarely encourage single mums to work due to the kid’s welfare and sixty plus men are edged on to pension credit to get another person off the unemployment statistic.
IMDb.com – 7.9/10.0 (36,234votes)
Rottentomatos.com – 93% critic’s approval
Metacritic.com –78% critic’s approval
Chicago Tribune – ‘Writer-director Ken Loach has been making movies about the British working class since the mid-60s, and this masterful dramatic feature proves that even after all these years he can still work himself up into righteous, white-hot rage’.
San Francisco Chronicle – ‘It’s enough to make you want to scream, except you don’t have to scream. Ken Loach does the screaming for you’.
Globe & Mail – ‘Ultimately this political film’s sentimentality and transparency detract from its power’.
The Mail – ‘… confronts that reality and those characters from an angle that allows them to become a kind of mirror held up before Britain – a mirror showing images that are ominously critical, yet crystalline in their humanity’.
Toronto Star – ‘A film of empathy, grace and wit that goes a long way to explaining the populist anger so emblematic of these times’.
Limelight – ‘[Ken] Loach is British cinema’s Charles Dickens – a humanist who deserves to be long remembered for holding up a mirror to society with compelling stories and indelible characters’.