One of the sharpest commentators on British politics lives at 10 Downing Street. A parody Twitter account of the cat Larry, the “Chief Mouser” at the British prime minister’s official residence, offers tweet-length wisdom on the foibles of the ruling elite.
On the elevation of the richie-rich Rishi Sunak as the latest PM, the person(s) behind the Twitter account had this to say:
Sunak’s staggering personal wealth and the fact that he has been chosen to lead the country not by the voting public but MPs of his Conservative Party makes his job all the more challenging. England is staring at a recession, inflation, a steep rise in gas prices because of Russia’s attack on Ukraine, and a possible increase in governmental austerity measures. The situation is ripe for a Ken Loach takedown.
The 86-year-old British director’s last film Sorry We Missed You, about the absurdity of the gig economy, was made in 2019. The Loach movie that speaks to the present is from 2016. It’s also one of his best films.
I, Daniel Blake, which is available on BookMyShow Stream, won the Cannes Film Festival’s highest award, the Palme d’Or. The win capped a long career of examining with clear-eyed honesty and unwavering perspicacity the challenges facing the British middle- and working classes.
The film’s titular hero is a recently unemployed joiner from Newcastle. Daniel (Dave Johns) is diagnosed with a medical problem. An error leads to Daniel being denied state assistance. Daniel embarks on a Kafakesque effort to remedy the situation. It includes one of his worst nightmares: computers.
When told that government services are now “digital by default”, Daniel retorts that he is “pencil by default”. Although the film is specific to England, Daniel’s struggles with computers, his frustration with red-tape and the overall precariousness of older members of the workforce have universal resonance.
Daniel’s plight is contrasted with Katie (Hayley Squire), a single mother with two children. Although Katie’s eventual journey is treated with a heavy hand, she has one of the film’s most wrenching sequences, which is set in a food bank.
“When you lose your self-respect, you are done for,” Daniel says. The film has been written by Paul Laverty, who has collaborated extensively with Loach. While Daniel’s one-man resistance produces brittle humour, Laverty and Loach never cheapen Daniel’s situation, and are always mindful of the shattering consequences of a socioeconomic order that privileges the few.
I, Daniel Blake is free of flourishes, coming straight to the point in Loach’s typically unvarnished, direct-cinema style. The film is suffused with empathy for the indignities forced upon ordinary people and anger at an insensitive government that hides behind paperwork. As the British media fills up with reports of skipped meals, lengthening queues outside food banks, and growing despair among even the middle class, Loach’s late-career masterpiece acquires the ring of prophecy.
Also read in the ‘Start the week with a film’ series