Watch this as soon as you can…
I, Daniel Blake (2016) and Sorry We Missed You (2019) are often described as companion pieces. Not because they feature the same set of characters. Rather, they are both war cries for the forgotten and the neglected in Tory Britain, depicting a very impersona and careless benefits system. Yet, this film also depicts a lot of heart and humanity, making it a moving watch. Ken Loach’s 2016 film is a well-deserved Palme d’Or winner.
Another thing both films have in common is a thoughtful script from Paul Laverty. Telling the story of the detached (mis)treatment of a widower with heart problems deemed “fit to work” and unworthy of benefits he desperately needs, and a single mother starving in the fifth richest country in the world, the story and the dialogue is notable for its detail, adding to its authenticity. For example, the benefits system is “digital by default”, isolating Daniel (Dave Johns) who is “pencil by default”. It is another subtle way people in the North of England are made to feel like they do not fit into the world around them. The script (along with the excellent direction) captures a solemn tone of depression, whilst also depicting the admirable stoicism of the people suffering in this life. In this script, we get a lot of what is most moving about life in Tory Britain, as well as what is most tragicomic. You’ll often find yourself crying, unsure whether it is laughter or tears. Perhaps both.
Certainly one of the most moving sequences has to be the one in the food back. It is heart-breaking but respectful. Katie feels utterly humiliated and desperate, but the film never presents her in a condescending way. It tracks Katie in near silence, the camera distant but attentive, as this were a documentary, as she encounters what must be real people working at food banks, rather than actors. Their inclusion really adds to the scene regardless, as they are understanding and sympathetic as Katie breaks down, making it all the more moving. In this sequence, there is a real anger at the country Britain has become since 2010, and the system that has reduced Katie to this state. The sequence is crushingly authentic, moving one to tears and anger at the same time. Katie is suffering in a Britain at its most cold. Its most blue, you might say.
This film is all the more powerful thanks to its wonderful lead performances. Hayley Squires captures the desperation of Katie perfectly. Dave Johns, a stand up comic, proves a brilliant choice for this drama. He is defiant and resilient, a caring father figure but an angry victim of an indifferent benefits system.
If you are an undecided voter in the UK, this is another film you need to see. Whilst it is a brilliant and moving film, it is a great shame that it exists. In another timeline, perhaps it still exists, but as a dystopian fantasy, rather than an accurate reflection of life in Tory Britain.