I don't say this because he is bad at his job. On the contrary, he is brilliant (and so is his screenwriter!). He takes a mundane account of a middle-aged man with heart trouble claiming benefits and looking for work and makes it utterly absorbing. No action sequences, no special effects, no stunning scenery. Just people in homes and shops and offices, going about their lives, and it's riveting.
Daniel Blake is the central character. An ordinary bloke, a carpenter with a lifetime of steady graft behind him, a heart attack leaves him unfit for work. But as the film begins (black screen initially, with just a conversation being heard – a surprisingly effective (and funny!) way of introducing the story – the interview by a 'health care professional' (not a doctor or a nurse, as is made clear) leads to him being assessed as 'fit for work'.
And things go downhill from there, as Daniel finds himself in constant conflict with a system that is both inefficient and inflexible, and which leaves no space for simple human compassion. Even the DWP employee who tries to help Daniel navigate the computer system finds herself in trouble.
What came over to me most strongly from the film was the sheer frustration of trying to get someone just to listen to a few simple facts. That, and the sense of being ground down by a vast weight of bureaucracy.
But, awful though the situation was, I didn't find it unremittingly bleak. What makes the film so watchable – what makes Daniel's situation bearable – is that in the midst of the bureaucratic nightmare there are still moments of friendship and humour, warmth and compassion. Daniel himself is the best example of that. Though the system is trying to crush him, he still manages to reach out and offer help to others who are struggling. And one of the most moving parts for me is where he talks about his dead wife, and we get a glimpse of the relationship that made him the man he is.
So why do I want to put Ken Loach out of business?
Not because I disagree with him about the injustices of our Welfare system. Not because I think he has misrepresented either the people or the situations. But precisely because he's right about these things – but he shouldn't be! These things should not exist. We should not need food banks to enable people to get by. Young women should not be driven to prostitution in order to provide for their children. Men with heart conditions should not be forced to go looking for jobs that they aren't allowed to take for medical reasons.
Ken Loach should be put out of business by a fair, just, compassionate system that treats people with respect and values them for who they are, not for their economic productivity. He would then have to direct his considerable talents to documentaries about nature or art or something innocuous.
But that's not likely to happen – certainly not while so many prefer to keep their heads firmly in the sand rather than admit that the system which is meant to help people is very often destroying them.
So I expect and hope that he will continue to make films, and that others will come forward with films or plays or articles or novels or any other means of communication and remind us all again and again what it's like to be caught up in the bureaucratic machinery of the State.
And if they can't fix the system, perhaps they can at least inspire us to face it with the courage, humour and compassion of Daniel Blake.