British Film Festival : 27 October – 16th November Palace Barracks Cinema
Long before Michael Moore's impassioned polemics, Ken Loach's Cathy Come Home shook a television viewing nation with its searing indictment of the inhumane treatment of a homeless woman. That play was watched by 25% of the population of the U.K., was voted " the most influential television drama ever" and shook a government. Fifty years later, Loach's searing film asks if anything has changed.
Some may see the approach as "same old, same old" but the 95% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes suggests that the 80 year old Loach has not lost his touch.
A 59 year old widower carpenter (Dan, played by Dave Johns) nearly loses his life when he had a heart attack at work, and his doctors say he must not return to work. Nonetheless he is told that he must go through the charade of looking for work or lose his benefits. While at the Department he stands up for a young mother (Katie, played by Hayley Squires) who has arrived late for an appointment.
One of the many strengths of the movie is how the friendship of two decent people, Dan and Katie, and Katie's children, develops.
Nearly two hours "on hold", insistence on forms being completed "on line" without help whether or not the "clients" are computer literate, cold and intransigent staff, unwilling to hear that medical specialists disagree with the assessment by their medically unqualified staff, and threats of "sanctions" are the world that Dan and Katie find themselves in. The movie searingly depicts the Kafkaesque muddle of the Department of Work and Pensions, which would be hilarious were their consequences not so tragic.
How the plot will develop is only too obvious, but its inevitability is one of the strengths of the movie. We grow fond of the protaganists, and despair at the rule-bound inhumanity of an inflexible system.
This is an emotionally and politically confronting movie – that is its intention, and it succeeds memorably and brilliantly. One can but hope that questions are again asked in Parliament, and that fifty years from now such a movie is not necessary.