Ken Loach directs Dave Johns, Hayley Squires and Briana Shan in this British drama where a carpenter and a single mother find themselves tangled up in the punitive recent changes to the U.K. benefits system.
I rarely get political online. I’m working class, left leaning and believe that there should be a safety net for everyone’s finances and welfare accessible to those in need. I let my vote do my talking as I often see didactic commentary on every little thing the other party does wrong only deafens those on the fence to the nuance of voting for “the good guys.” This film shows how the welfare system we have paid into has been warped and how the people who need it have been demonised. It shows how communities and charities have picked up some of the slack left when assistance is arranged purposefully to be bureaucratically inaccessible and social housing has been depleted. I realise that like a lot of Loach’s work he hones in on the worst case scenario but isn’t all cinema like that. Goodfellas wouldn’t be a classic if it followed the happily married, straight edge, jobbing hood. Casablanca wouldn’t sing if it followed the 48 hours before – where Rick ordered his weekend stock and Elsa packed her suitcase for the North African shore. Likewise this shows two unfortunates who have less access to family, patience or digital resources to help them keep at a pace with a system designed to trick them out of the benefits they need. Foreign film critics have seen the Kafka-esque world of sanctions, non-compliance and humans in need treated as “clients” as a parable, an amusing satire. It isn’t really though, is it? This is a humanised dramatisation of the bigger holes the Tories have slashed into the safety net so more and more fall through. The government’s endgame is to deter people away from benefits into work but as far as I can see we haven’t had near universal employment since my parents’ childhoods – the jobs just aren’t there in some areas. Johns and especially Squires do affecting work throughout as they try to survive continual denial of their basic need for an income. They are funny yet moments of their plight are truly heartbreaking. At times the eponymous lead’s struggle is overtly heavy handed but Squire’s subplot has veracity, the chilling ring of truth to it.
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