Director Ken Loach and long-time collaborator Paul Laverty create a heartbreaking portrait of life in modern Britain for those unfortunate enough to encounter the welfare system. The titular Daniel Blake is a former carpenter, who is advised by his GP to stop work following a heart attack. While the early scenes of him trying to navigate the bureaucratic nightmare that is the British governments benefits system contain a degree of humour the film soon delves into the darker consequences for people who are on the margins of society. There is something Pythonesque about the opening scene, played over the credits, where it seems that the entire system is designed to make it impossible to get through. The need for lengthy application papers to be signed, forms to be filled out online, and unsympathetic interviewers will be familiar to many people from various situations. However, the film does a great job of skewering exactly what is wrong with the system. A complete lack of compassion. This is most obvious when a woman comes in a few minutes late for her scheduled meeting and is told that she will have to wait until the following week to be seen. Again the scene could be comical if not for the seriousness of the situation. We learn a little about Daniel's life and the life of this young mother of two as the film progresses and things continue to get worse for them.
For those familiar with Loach's other work (Cathy Come Home, Sweet Sixteen) this is sure to be regarded as one of his best. The actors give naturalistic performances and the direction takes us inside a world that many will be unfamiliar with outside of news reports. The characters are all sympathetic and the film does a good job of making it about them as much as the system. While it offers few answers it does what it sets out to in highlighting the cruelty of the government and the tragic effects it has on people's lives.