At 80 years old, English filmmaking icon Ken Loach surprises with one of his best and most emotional movies in years thanks to Palme d’Or winner “I, Daniel Blake.” Loach is well known for his kitchen sink dramas, often highlighting the grim realities of poverty with a humanist touch, and that trend applies whole-heartedly with his new movie, a blunt and often devastating experience with two powerhouse performances from Dave Johns and Hayley Squires at the forefront.
Johns plays the eponymous Daniel Blake, a note-quite-cantankerous 59 year old living in the North-East of England. Recovering form heart disease, Blake tries and continuously fails to apply for out-of-work sickness benefits from the Employment and Support Allowance, which creates numerous economic challenges for him. During his struggles, he befriends a single mother (Squires, excellent) raising two kids in a flat she can’t afford. Slowly and with great emotional effect, Loach creates a character study that speaks to larger social issues plaguing England’s lower class.
In his review out of Cannes, IndieWire Chief Film Critic Eric Kohn wrote, “With expert performers at its center, ‘I, Daniel Blake’ maintains a core authenticity that elevates it above the garden variety kitchen sink routine… If indeed Loach is winding down, “I, Daniel Blake” forms a more appropriate vessel for his chief skill.”
While the material can be a bit crippling at times, Johns and Squires performances demand to be seen. They give this bleak drama an urgency that’s hard to forget long after you leave the theater. Sundance Selects will release “I, Daniel Blake” in theaters December 23. Watch the debut U.S. trailer below, courtesy of The Hollywood Reporter.