The ensuing Catch-22 concludes that his only income can be from jobseeker’s allowance, which he can earn only from exhaustingly being seen to look for work, and attend CV workshops; this cheerfully open, unreflective man is naively candid about his intention to avoid work for his health – so is humiliatingly labelled as a scrounger. Everything has to be applied for online, but Blake has no computer, no smartphone, no internet, and is mortifyingly incompetent at using the terminals in his public library, which crash or freeze just as he is reaching the end of the form, so he must go back to the beginning.
His one friend is Katie, the quick-tempered single mother whom Daniel befriends, becoming a gentle, grandfatherly figure to her two kids Though he is as innocent as a child when it comes to the web, he shows he can fix up their dilapidated flat, and give them savvy tips on keeping it as warm as possible. He does actually like doing work.
The cold, hard grimness of the Jobcentre, with its flat lighting and painted chipboard-partitioned cubicles, puts a brutal glaze on many scenes. So also does the language. The officials have a chilling habit of defusing all complaint, whether face-to-face or on the phone, by insisting that they themselves are not making a ruling – it is all the responsibility of the “decision-maker”, as if it is one single person: “decision-maker” is an almost laughably ungainly officialese, which also has something distinctly Orwellian about it.
And then there is the key scene: the mortifying moment in the food bank itself, and wretched, proud Katie endures an unspeakable humiliation, which is almost unbearably moving. The scene is a brutal, tactless evocation of what unthinkable things hunger might do. Dickens wrote in Bleak House that “what the poor are to the poor is little known, excepting to themselves and God”. This film intervenes in the messy, ugly world of poverty with the secular intention of making us see that it really is happening, and in a prosperous nation, too. I, Daniel Blake is a movie with a fierce, simple dignity of its own.
Review by Peter Bradshaw in the Guardian.