I, Daniel Blake (2017)
Directed by Ken Loach
Last November, months before the recent snap election which led to his Labour Party gaining several seats in British parliament, Jeremy Corbyn suggested that Prime Minister Theresa May go to a theater to see “I, Daniel Blake,” which premiered last summer at Cannes and toured the festival circuit until its limited release in America this June. The populist, left-of-center Corbyn (Britain’s version of Bernie Sanders, if that helps) was moved by director Ken Loach’s heartfelt tale of a man’s fight with an unfair and sometimes unfeeling system. I was, too.
We first meet Daniel Blake (Dave Johns, delivering a deep and earnest performance), a blue-collar laborer and landlord to friendly tenants, while he’s recovering from a heart attack. Doctors haven’t cleared him to work, but his job benefits aren’t covering his living expenses—he needs to get back to work soon or he’ll be forced to apply for unemployment. The problem is, the system designed to help the most vulnerable is making Dan jump through hoops to get anything done. Katie (Hayley Squires), a single mom who recently moved from London, has similarly dire predicaments. As Dan and Katie attempt to make ends meet, they’ll see firsthand the nasty underbelly of the unfair institution that isn’t doing what it’s designed for.
After a look at the synopsis, I don’t blame you for thinking “I, Daniel Blake” sounds like an awfully boring way to spend an hour and a half. And at times, it certainly does feel like a drag. There are boring stretches that’ll make you think “This is what they thought would move this story forward?” But the simple plot is just a way to get its broader message across. “I, Daniel Blake” is bigger than those one-hundred minutes of agonizing interactions with government employees who are chained by a system of rules that don’t allow for exceptions. It’s about the harsh realities of welfare recipients in civilized countries around the world, including ours. The often-heartbreaking story should make you sympathize with those who work hard, who want to succeed, but who rely on tiny bits of your tax dollars to boost them up to a place where they can live without help. From now on, anyone criticizing welfare recipients as lazy, greedy, or stupid will get the same reaction from me that Theresa May got from Jeremy Corbyn: go see “I, Daniel Blake.”