In renowned social realist filmmaker Ken Loach’s 19th feature the title character (Dave Johns) meets single mother Katie (Hayley Squires) as they both endure the trials and tribulations of negotiating the British Welfare system. The film won the Palme d’Or at Cannes, deservingly putting Loach amongst fellow luminaries Francis Ford Coppola and the Dardenne brothers who have also won the prize twice.
Cast as the 21st Century Workhouse, the benefits system is very much the focal point and villain of the piece. Loach’s long time collaborator Paul Laverty skilfully balances poignant social commentary with care for the characters as we witness the touching relationship between central characters Daniel and Katie play out. Out of work Carpenter Daniel befriends Katie and her children who have been forcibly relocated 300 miles from her home to Newcastle. Widower Daniel faces a similarly distressing situation as his inability to work due to illness requires that he negotiate various jobcentre hoop jumping exercises.
The message here is clear – the current system is flawed. Loach exposes a welfare system which has more interest in retaining people in a dispiriting state of uselessness than helping them out of their situation. The sense of desperation is never more explicit than in a heartbreaking food bank scene and a homeless man’s speech outside Jobcentre Plus. Loach’s trademark no-frills style is offset by Robbie Ryan’s warm cinematography.