Ken Loach on I, Daniel Blake

The new film by British filmmaker Ken Loach, I DANIEL BLAKE, won the Palme d’Or at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival and is set to open the Gent Film Festival next month.

Loach’s unique style of social realism has been at the forefront of British Cinema for over 50 years, directing a prolific slate of passionate tales of social injustice, including POOR COW (1967), KES (1969), LAND AND FREEDOM (1995) and THE WIND THAT SHAKES THE BARLEY (2006), the film that won him his first Palme d’or.  Loach is one of only nine directors to have twice won the prestigious award.

I, Daniel Blake (dir. Ken Loach) film poster

The film tells the story of Daniel Blake (played by actor & stand-up comedian Dave Johns), 59, who has worked as a joiner most of his life in Newcastle. Now, after a heart attack and nearly falling from a scaffold, he needs help from the State for the first time in his life.

He crosses paths with a single mother Katie (Hayley Squires) and her two young children, Daisy and Dylan. Katie’s only chance to escape a one-roomed homeless hostel in London has been to accept a flat in a city she doesn’t know some 300 miles away.

Daniel and Katie find themselves in no-man’s land caught on the barbed wire of welfare bureaucracy as played out against the rhetoric of ‘striver and skiver’ in modern day Britain.

Loach first rose to prominence with his episode of the Wednesday Play TV Series in 1966. CATHY COME HOME was described ‘an ice-pick to the head’ of anyone who saw it. The bleak tale of Cathy, who loses her home, husband and eventually her child through the inflexibility of the British welfare system, directly lead to changes in the homeless laws and the public launch of the charity ‘shelter’.  The Times film critic, Kate Muir, calls I DANIEL BLAKE another ice-pick.

How does Loach feel about making a film in a similar vein, fifty years on? What are the parallels?

Director Ken Loach

He says: “They are both stories of people whose lives are seriously damaged by the economic situation they’re in. It’s been an idea we’ve returned to again and again but it’s particularly sharp in I, Daniel Blake. The style of film-making, of course, is very different. When we made Cathy we ran about with a hand-held camera, set up a scene, shot it and we were done. The film was shot in three weeks.

“In this film the characters are explored more fully.  Both Katie and Dan are seen in extremis.  In the end, their natural cheerfulness and resilience are not enough.  Certainly politically the world that this film shows is even more cruel than the world that Cathy was in. The market economy has led us inexorably to this disaster.  It could not do otherwise.  It generates a working class that is vulnerable and easy to exploit.  Those who struggle to survive face poverty. It’s either the fault of the system or it’s the fault of the people. They don’t want to change the system, therefore they have to say it’s the fault of the people.

“Looking back, we should not be surprised at what has happened.  The only question is – what do we do about it?”

Hayley Squires & Dave Johns in I, DANIEL BLAKE (dir. Ken Loach)

Does he make films hoping to bring about change and, if so, what would that mean in the case of I, DANIEL BLAKE?

“It’s the old phrase isn’t it: ‘Agitate, Educate, Organise,” he says. “You can agitate with a film – you can’t educate much, though you can ask questions – and you can’t organise at all, but you can agitate. And I think to agitate is a great aim because being complacent about things that are intolerable is just not acceptable. Characters trapped in situations where the implicit conflict has to be played out, that is the essence of drama. And if you can find that drama in things that are not only universal but have a real relevance to what’s going on in the world, then that’s all the better. I think anger can be very constructive if it can be used; anger that leaves the audience with something unresolved in their mind, something to do, something challenging.”

‘Intensely moving’… ‘utterly heartbreaking’…’a masterpiece’.

I DANIEL BLAKE has received standing ovations from audiences moved to tears at festivals across the world. It is ‘a rare political drama that touches the soul.’

I, DANIEL BLAKE opens in cinemas across the UK from Friday 21st October, 2016