BBC Broadcast of Ken Loach's 'I, Daniel Blake' Sparks Debate in U.K.

I, Daniel Blake 2 - H 2016
Courtesy of Cannes Film Festival

A politician who criticized the Palme d'Or-winning film's accuracy in depicting the U.K.'s benefits system came under fire on social media from those working in the sector and even an Emmy-winning satirist.

When I, Daniel Blake premiered in 2016 in Cannes — where it would win the Palme d’Or — director Ken Loach used the opportunity to attack the policies of the British Conservative Party government.

The critically acclaimed drama, which would become Loach’s biggest film to date in the U.K. and was released by IFC Films in the U.S., followed the emotional story of a blue-collar worker who, after suffering a heart attack and being told he is unfit to work, struggles to navigate the bureaucracy of the British benefits systems, which informs him he must seek employment. In interviews at the time, Loach described the “conscious cruelty” with which the current welfare state organizes lives, sparking a political debate that would even be discussed in the Houses of Parliament.

Almost three years on, and I, Daniel Blake’s first TV broadcast in the U.K. has kick-started another conversation.

While many people used social media to encourage people to watch the film, which aired on BBC Two on Saturday, much of the chatter was directed at Conservative members of parliament (MPs) who tried to dismiss the film as a work of fiction (as several had done in 2016).

One politician, Conservative deputy chairman James Cleverly, came under fire after tweeting “You do realise that it’s not a documentary, don’t you” to a Labour MP promoting the film, before claiming it was a “political polemic” that unfairly represented those working in the benefits system.

Several professionals from the industry immediately jumped on his tweet, asserting that I, Daniel Blake was accurate in its portrayal (with reality sometimes being worse). Others pointed to interviews with screenwriter Paul Laverty, who had explained that the film was written following extensive research and after speaking to “academics, people in the food banks, advisors and whistle-blowers.”

Among those getting involved was Veep creator and Death of Stalin director Armando Iannucci, who tweeted that the film was “based on real case studies, meetings with real claimants.” He added: “It’s a well-researched film, and is actually a surprisingly dispassionate account of what the benefits system is for many. It may not be a documentary but it’s true.”

In an interview Sunday morning, BBC political host Andrew Marr referenced the film while talking to British Prime Minister Theresa May, who has been heavily criticized for pushing through a benefits system that many have argued leave poorer claimants worse off. However, in a widely mocked slip of the tongue, Marr called the film "I, Daniel Craig."