The lat­est slice of knock­about fun from noted laugh­ter mer­chant, Ken Loach.

Empire (UK) - - CONTENTS - andrew lowry

THERE’S A SIGN do­ing the rounds at this year’s boom in protests that reads, “I can’t be­lieve I’m still protest­ing this shit in 2016.”

You can imag­ine Ken Loach must feel the same way. Af­ter five decades of so­cially pro­gres­sive dra­mas, and doc­u­men­taries so po­lit­i­cally hard­core they were sup­pressed like de­gen­er­ate art, he came out of re­tire­ment to make this — a pro­found sigh of a sur­vey of to­day’s marginalised and their re­la­tion­ship with the state. With I, Daniel Blake, he’s not an­gry; he’s very, very dis­ap­pointed.

Geordie stand-up Johns is Daniel, a wid­ower un­able to work thanks to a heart con­di­tion, but

just well enough to not seem se­ri­ously ill. Fall­ing between the twin poles of dis­abil­ity sup­port and Job­seek­ers’ Al­lowance, he faces a night­mare of forms, CV cour­ses and hold mu­sic that lasts longer than a foot­ball match. It’s all to­tally au­then­tic, Loach’s eye for non-pro­fes­sional ac­tors and ren­der­ing the mun­dane com­pelling undimmed since his 2014 ‘re­tire­ment’.

He’s well served by his lead, with Johns nail­ing one of the hard­est things for an ac­tor — the demon­stra­tion of gen­uine de­cency with­out putting the au­di­ence to sleep. Dan wants to work — he gets on his bike, as Nor­man Teb­bit would be thrilled to hear, but his ben­e­fits ad­vi­sors dis­miss his hand­writ­ten CV and failure to get re­ceipts from the fore­men he de­liv­ers it to with cold bu­reau­cratic in­dif­fer­ence. A scene where Dan strug­gles with a mouse is typ­i­cal — it’s funny, but also deeply de­press­ing. He’s highly skilled, but the world has moved on, and this proud man seems des­tined for the scrapheap through no fault of his own.

There’s a feel­ing Loach may have over­loaded his hand with Dan, a pro­tag­o­nist of such virtue it’s a won­der he can’t get a job walk­ing across the Tyne. But this is a film with an agenda, so Dan and his young friend Katie are un­com­pli­cat­edly hard-done-by, and the pow­ers-that-be un­com­pli­cat­edly bas­tards: the op-ed el­e­ment can ob­scure the drama, and the end­ing is vis­i­ble from over the hori­zon.

How­ever, we don’t come to Loach for sub­tlety, and he lands his great­est punches via Katie. Spik­ily played by Squires — a real dis­cov­ery — she finds her­self in the most up­set­ting scenes, be it go­ing hun­gry to feed her kids, des­per­ately gob­bling baked bean juice in a food bank, or find­ing work in the most de­grad­ing way pos­si­ble. Her in­ter­lock­ing ex­pe­ri­ences with Dan de­liver a mes­sage about the cru­elty of ben­e­fit re­form more force­fully than any bar chart on

News­night, and their bur­geon­ing friend­ship is as great a por­trait of Loachian sol­i­dar­ity as any he’s pre­vi­ously set in strikes or wars of lib­er­a­tion.

Loach is now 80, and he’s al­ready re­tired once. Could this be the last film from one of Bri­tain’s ma­jor film­mak­ers? It’s hard not to both want more — there are too few fully en­gaged di­rec­tors left — and wish things were such that he wouldn’t feel the need to make an­other film. We all know what’s more likely.

ver­dict loach scans the con­tem­po­rary land­scape, and in­stead of a firebrand ap­proach of stereo­type, de­liv­ers a film of im­mense sad­ness. some­one should project this on the walls of the Depart­ment for Work and pen­sions.

Mod­ern Bri­tain, where you’re not even al­lowed to raise your arm.

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