The Old Oak – REVIEW

The Old Oak – REVIEW
Image: THE OLD OAK. Image: film still

Ken Loach has been making films for a very long time. His documentary-style narratives have covered the full spectrum of social and political subject matter and have garnered Loach both praise and censure. 

Now, at age 87, he has released his final film, The Old Oak, and it is a fitting coda to a commendable career. 

The Old Oak is a quietly spoken declamation against racism and xenophobia that comes from an interesting perspective. Set in a small village in county Durham in the north of England (think Billy Elliot), the story centres around a pub, The Old Oak, which stands as one of few surviving businesses in a once thriving mining town that is now ghostly quiet. 

Ebla Mari as Yara in THE OLD OAK. Image: film still

Pub owner, T J Ballantyne (Dave Turner) is a reticent, matter-of-fact kind of bloke who barely engages in conversation with his handful of regulars. The pub is one of the few communal gathering places left in the town. It has a large backroom that was once used for functions but is now dilapidated and permanently locked up. 

The pub regulars at THE OLD OAK. Image: film still

When a bus-load of Syrian refugees is brought to the town for resettlement, many of the residents, who are themselves struggling on welfare, take umbrage. One Syrian women, Yari (Ebla Mari) has her camera broken by a hooligan as she steps off the bus. TJ, who is present, offers to help her get the camera fixed and from there they form a bond. 

Yari speaks fluent English and is resilient, determined and empathetic. She understands the resentment of the town-folk to the influx of refugees, but rather than cower, she uses the resources at her disposal to try and bring the Syrians and towns people together. 

It’s a slow-burn film with the ambience of a British television drama and a cinéma-vérité style. There’s not a lot of nuance and at times it can be cringingly heavy-handed, but the characters and messaging ultimately still feel authentic and worthwhile. 

The Northern English dialect can be challenging to understand at times but it has a certain musicality to it that somehow adds to the film. 


In cinemas now

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