CANNES, France (Reuters) - Fifty years after TV play “Cathy Come Home” shocked viewers with its grim depiction of the slide into homelessness, director Ken Loach is still angry about the precarious reality of life on the breadline in Britain, and tries not to be too pessimistic.
In his latest film “I, Daniel Blake”, at the Cannes Film Festival, Loach, 79, shows how Britain’s social security system conspires to drive a downtrodden carpenter and a single mother of two into poverty in the northeastern city of Newcastle.
Stand-up comedian Dave Johns plays joiner Daniel who is denied disability benefits when unable to work through illness. He befriends young mother Katie, played by Hayley Squires, as they battle with the welfare system.
“I am optimistic in the people’s capacity to fight back, but in the short term there is so much to do and not enough people to do it,” Loach told Reuters in an interview. “I try not to be pessimistic.”
To research the film, Loach visited his home town in the middle of Britain along with screenwriter Paul Laverty to meet people struggling to make ends meet - and left morose.
“We met one lad who was living in a charity room and he had a mattress on the floor. He had nothing in his fridge, no food, and the week before he hadn’t eaten for four days,” said Loach.
In the film, Katie, who is driven to becoming an escort girl, eats out of a tin can from a food bank after starving herself to feed her children, while Dan prefers to sell his furniture than accept a friend’s money.
“The story in the film is about real people. It could be your dad, it could your grandfather, it could be your daughter, it could be your sister,” said Johns.
Though the film, well-crafted by cinematographer Robbie Ryan, is bleak, Loach adds touches of humour to often Kafkaesque situations. Just as Dan finally manages to fill in an unemployment form on the internet with the help of a young man at his local library, the computer freezes.
“It’s frozen”, the young man says.
“Well, can you defrost it?” asks Dan.
Johns and Squires both play characters in the film who never lose their dignity despite their dire lot, but the resentment the actors feel towards the British government is real.
“People say ‘we’ve had enough of this’. You can bail out the banks but you can’t bail out people who are on the bread line?” said Johns.
“So many lies are told about it ... it makes me so furious,” said Squires.
Editing by David Clarke