I, Daniel Blake - Ken Loach’s Best | Sunday Observer

I, Daniel Blake - Ken Loach’s Best

30 January, 2022

‘I, Daniel Blake’ is Loach’s biggest success at the UK box office. On the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 92%, based on 184 reviews, with an average rating of 8.01/10. The site’s consensus reads: “I, Daniel Blake marks yet another well-told chapter in director Ken Loach’s powerfully populist filmography.” On ‘Metacritic’, the film has a score of 78 out of 100, based on 31 critics, indicating “generally favourable reviews”.

Writing for ‘The Guardian’, Mark Kermode gave the film five stars.


In 2017, Dave Johns took a solo show to the Edinburgh Fringe: ‘I, Filum Sta’r’ chronicled how Dave’s life had changed since the success of the film, and received critical acclaim, playing to sold out rooms throughout the run. In 2019, he toured a new show, ‘From Byker to the BAFTAs’, with 24 dates from August until November.

A stand-up comedy show titled ‘I, Tom Mayhew’ was performed at the Edinburgh Fringe in August 2019. The stand-up comedian Tom Mayhew had previously been on benefits for over three years in austerity Britain and was inspired to write the show after watching the film. The show was critically acclaimed, with it transferring to a sold-out run at the Soho Theatre in January 2020.

Political response

The former Conservative Work and Pensions Secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, said that I, Daniel Blake was unfair, criticising its portrayal of Jobcentre staff, saying, “This idea that everybody is out to crunch you, I think it has really hurt Jobcentre staff who don’t see themselves as that.” The producer, Rebecca O’Brien, responded that Smith “is living in cloud cuckoo land”.

On an episode of BBC’s topical debate program ’Question Time broadcast on 27 October 2016, which had Loach as a panellist, the Business Secretary Greg Clark described the film as “fictional”, saying, “It’s a difficult job administering a benefits system ... Department of Work and Pensions staff have to make incredibly difficult decisions and I think they should have our support in making those decisions.”

Loach responded by criticising the pressure that DWP staff are placed under. “We talked to hundreds of people who work at the DWP under your guidance and instructions, and they are told to sanction people,” Loach said.

“If they don’t sanction them, they’re in trouble.” “When you’re sanctioned your life is forced into chaos, and people are going to food banks,” he said. “How can we live in a society where hunger is used as a weapon?”

While serving as Leader of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn appeared at the film’s London premiere and praised the film on his Facebook page. During Prime Minister’s Questions on 2 November 2016, he criticised the unfairness of the welfare system and advised the incumbent Prime Minister, Theresa May, to watch the film. 

THE Plot

Widower Daniel Blake, a 59-year-old joiner from Newcastle, has had a heart attack. Though his cardiologist has not allowed him to return to work, Daniel is deemed fit to do so after a work capability assessment and denied Employment and Support Allowance. He is frustrated to learn that his doctor was not contacted about the decision, and applies for an appeal, a process he finds difficult because he must complete forms online and is not computer literate.

Daniel befriends single mother Katie after she is sanctioned for arriving late for a Jobcentre appointment. Katie and her children have just moved to Newcastle from a London homeless shelter, as there is no affordable accommodation in London.

Daniel helps the family by repairing objects, teaching them how to heat rooms without electricity, and crafting wooden toys for the children.

During a visit to a food bank, Katie is overcome by hunger and breaks down. After she is caught shoplifting at a supermarket, a security guard offers her work as a prostitute. Daniel surprises her at the brothel, where he begs her to give up the job, but she tearfully insists she has no other way to feed her children.

As a condition for receiving Jobseeker’s Allowance, Daniel must keep looking for work. He refuses a job at a garden centre because his doctor will not allow him to work yet. When Daniel’s work coach tells him he must work harder to find a job or be sanctioned, Daniel spray paints “I, Daniel Blake, demand my appeal date before I starve” on the building.

He earns the support of passersby, including other benefits claimants, but is arrested and cautioned by the police. Daniel sells most of his belongings and becomes withdrawn. He is pulled out of his depression by Katie’s daughter, Daisy, who brings him a homemade meal to repay him for his kindness.

On the day of Daniel’s appeal, Katie accompanies him to the tribunal. A welfare adviser tells Daniel that his case looks sound. On glimpsing the judge and doctor who will decide his case, Daniel becomes anxious and visits the lavatory, where he suffers a heart attack and dies, aged 60. At his public health funeral, Katie reads the eulogy, including the speech Daniel had intended to read at his appeal.

The speech describes his feelings about how the welfare system failed him: “I am not a blip on a computer screen or a national insurance number, I am a man.”

‘I, Daniel Blake’ is a 2016 drama film directed by Ken Loach and written by his long-time collaborator Paul Laverty. It stars Dave Johns as Daniel Blake, who is denied Employment and Support Allowance despite his doctor finding him unfit to work. Hayley Squires co-stars as Katie, a struggling single mother whom Daniel befriends.

The film won the Palme d’Or at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival, the Prix du public at the 2016 Locarno International Film Festival, and the 2017 BAFTA Award for Outstanding British Film.