I, Daniel Blake

First Hit: Excellent acting shares a heartwarming and heartbreaking story. The intense realism Dave Johns and Hayley Squires (Daniel and Katie) bring to their respective parts was amazing. Daniel is a 59-year-old British carpenter who has worked with his hands all his life, suffers a heart attack and his physician indicates he cannot go back to work until his heart gets stronger.

He gets a phone call from the employment department in Newcastle, England, they go through a round of idiotic questions to determine whether he’s qualified to receive unemployment benefits. The questions could pertain to someone who didn’t suffer a heart attack and who might be scamming the system, but they are laughable to Daniel. He does answer them the best he can.

At one point, he asks if the person on the other end of the phone line; are they a qualified medical person who can make a correct decision? They are not and everyone knows this, but they are just doing their job. He’s told that a “Decision Maker” will decide if he’s qualified to continue to receive benefits.

After we see him visit his heart doctor and she tells him he cannot go back to work he receives a rejection notice for his benefits. He decides to go to the Employment Benefit office in person to complete a request for a reassessment. Entering the office, it is typical government agency type of office whereas the workers only do what they are told and what the procedures dictate.

Here is where we meet Katie. She is a  single mother in her twenties with two small children and is late to her appointment because she has just moved to Newcastle from London after being evicted from her London flat. Newcastle was only place where she had been able to find living accommodations.  She is late to her appointment for government assistance because she had taken the incorrect bus. The desk person she’s supposed to meet with tells her she cannot meet because she is late and therefore will not get her benefits.

Katie throws a small tantrum and Daniel tries to intercede to help Katie with the supervisor and security people at the agency. Alas, he gets thrown out of the office as well.

Daniel returns on another day and is told he must fill out the forms online. He doesn’t have a computer nor does he know how to use one. In one scene, when a librarian attempts to help him, she says "move the mouse up the screen", he takes the mouse in his hand and puts it on the screen and rolls it towards the top of the computer.

The frustration Daniel and Katie have with the agency grows and Katie turns to theft and prostitution to keep her children alive. Daniel loses everything, furniture and other personal stuff, just to stay alive while they fight the bureaucracy. Daniel finally gets fed up and gets arrested for putting graffiti on the Employment Offices outside wall.

When his solicitor (lawyer) discovers Daniel’s predicament, he gets a hearing and is assured of a win for his employment benefit case, but then tragedy strikes.

The realism of the bureaucratic offices, the story line, the confusion, and the helplessness as shown in this film were wonderful, although it was difficult to watch how easily the haves dismiss the have nots.

Johns was fantastic. I loved how he did what he could, in deference to his own life, to make Katie’s life easier. He was amazingly perfect for the part. Squires was equally fantastic. When she was in the food bank picking up food, her struggle to stay alive broke my heart. Watching her do her best to shield her children from their predicament was amazingly pure. Briana Shann as Daisy, Katie’s daughter was fantastic. I loved when she came to the Daniel’s door to draw him out. Dylan McKiernan as Dylan, Katie’s hyper active son was sublime. With the attention, Daniel paid to him, he found a way to focus. Kate Rutter, as Employment Office worker Ann, was very strong as someone who wanted to help and was hindered by her supervisor and job procedures. Paul Laverty wrote an outstandingly realistic screenplay. Ken Loach got everything and more from this screenplay and actors.

Overall:  All bureaucratic workers would do well to see how they are sometimes seen.