Solidarity before charity, that is one of the core messages in The Old Oak, the latest feature from acclaimed director Ken Loach. Working once again with longstanding collaborator writer Paul Laverty, the pair have made an affecting film that’s challenging but also heartwarming once compassion overrides callousness.
Set in North East England (specifically County Durham) in 2016, the majority of the inhabitants of the former mining town are unhappy with how their town is changing in post-Brexit times. Central to the story is kind-hearted publican TJ Ballantyne (Dave Turner) who runs The Old Oak – the quaint watering hole referred to as one of the last public spaces in the area to congregate – and is something of a cornerstone within the community.
The film begins with a bus of Syrian refugees arriving in the town. They are being rehomed much to the disgust of some of the locals. Ballantyne, however, befriends Yara (Ebla Mari) who, along with her family, has escaped her war-torn country. Their rapport throughout the film’s 113 minutes is extremely engaging in how they find a source of support between one another which subsequently spreads across the neighbourhood. This development never veers towards a cheap cinematic pay-off, instead there’s a searing sense of realism anchoring the story and therefore adding to its impact.
The Old Oak is a vital visual depiction of how important solidarity amongst communities is. It reminds us how it can be easier to become frustrated and project those feelings onto those in worse circumstances before directing that anger towards the upper classes and governmental figures who perpetuate such despair amongst the working class and refugees. Despite the story being set in 2016, the pressing social conflicts of The Old Oak remain relevant today. In this regard, Loach and Laverty’s latest work is essential viewing.
Words: Zara Hedderman
The Old Oak
Director: Ken Loach
Talent: Ebla Mari, Dave Turner
Release Date: September 29