It would be hard to imagine a film that’s more of-the-moment than Ken Loach’s latest. It follows the life of Daniel, a middle-aged widower living in Newcastle. After a heart attack, Daniel is told by his doctor that he shouldn’t go back to work until his condition has improved. The government has other ideas.
On the basis of a couple of phone calls and a questionnaire, Daniel is judged fit to work and his benefits are stopped. Medically unable to work and financially unable to survive, he’s trapped by circumstances. Also struggling is Katie, a single mother who’s trying to make a life for her two kids. Both want to work, but neither knows how to in a system that assumes the worst of them.
As a piece of writing, it has some very rough edges. Daniel and Katie are presented as saints of the benefit system, both desperate to get off it as soon as possible and both delivering monologues about their plans to do so that never quite sound like the words of real people.
Yet its inelegance doesn’t particularly damage its effectiveness as a film. It seems clear that Loach doesn’t want Daniel and Katie to stand as anything other than a relatable face for all the real people who tend to be anonymised into headlines or statistics. In that sense, it’s extremely effective.
Watching Katie breaking open a tin of beans in a food bank, shaking and weeping because she hasn’t eaten properly in weeks, it’s horribly easy to be reminded that the same thing is probably happening all across the country.
Loach isn’t refining his filmmaking here – with 30 films over nearly 50 years, he has no reason to – but he’s shouting about something he feels is wrong. He throws the arguments at you, showing you the country he thinks Britain has become and asking you to draw your own conclusions. It has all the subtlety of a sledgehammer, but it hits with the same force.