Daily Notes

Review: The Old Oak

If this film is the last from Ken Loach, it is a stunning end to an outstanding career. However, the social commentary is no lighter than before.
Matt 2 min read
Review: The Old Oak

I'm late to seeing this film, which came out in November 2023. We took a first visit to the Pavilion Theatre in nearby Dun Laoghaire, which has a Monday night film thread.

The Old Oak is set in the north-east of England. It tells the story of the landlord of a failing pub, who opens his premises up to support Syrian immigrants.

The pub has seen better days, once a draw for the local miners. Since the pit has closed, custom has diminished save for a few hardcore drinkers. They seem adrift, and over influenced by social media towards xenophobia. Plummeting house prices and an influx of refugees have left them fearful. The fear generates some vicious reactions.

The story starts with the arrival of a bus of Syrians, escaping a war. Yara is a young woman with a passion for photography. She forms an unlikely friendship with TJ, the pub landlord.

Over time, they discover the bonds that eating together can bring. Pulling their community together in back room of the pub for communal meals. The indigenous locals struggle with the change, and there is tension along the way.

The Old Oak was beautifully acted, with a real local feel. The dialogue and script seemed authentic and honest and the setting was 100% on location. Throughout the film, there were real tears and some heartbreaking scenes. When the lights went up in our cinema, there were few dry eyes.

Ken Loach rarely goes easy on the viewer. Together with writer Paul Laverty, they do not sugarcoat anything in The Old Oak. There are some brutal scenes, and troubling language, but nothing feels fake.

Yet, there was true kindness from a population disenfranchised from systems of government. And, in the final moments there was some hope for community and togetherness.

I adored this film, which told a story I recognised in post-Brexit Britain. Even from my privileged outlook, I could see how people were becoming stranded at the margins. The moral of the story that 'it takes a few heroes to make a difference'. My worry is that there are too few heroic acts.

If this is Ken Loach's final film, it's a stunning ending to an outstanding career.

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