Published on November 29th, 2023 | by Natalie Salvo
The Old Oak Film Review
Summary: Ken Loach’s final film is a comfortable book-end to a storied career examining the lives of everyday people.
A Syrian woman and an Englishman walk into a bar. Ken Loach’s final film may sound like the premise to a joke but this is actually a realistic drama. With its three-dimensional characters and natural scenes, this is a sober look at life in a Northern English Town.
Loach has had a storied career over the past six decades. For “The Old Oak” he once again teams up with longtime collaborator, writer Paul Laverty. This film may not win the same awards for perfection as “I, Daniel Blake” but it does sing from a similar hymnbook, as it captures disenfranchised individuals and their frustration at what is ultimately a broken system.
The likeable Dave Turner stars as publican, TJ Ballantyne. He is the last man standing, as his is the last remaining pub in this close-knit town. The setting, Durham County, is one where there is much economic distress as may local jobs were lost after the closure of the mines. The cheap house prices may be hard for some but it does make it an attractive locale for some Syrian refugees who are new to Britain in 2016. But they must contend with some local xenophobes – many of whom are Ballantyne’s few remaining regulars – who are resentful of the refugees.
Yara (newcomer Elba Mari) is a warm-hearted Syrian woman who strikes up a gentle friendship with Ballantyne. The pair originally bond over a broken camera and then work together on various matters, challenging local prejudices and preconceptions in much the same way as the film’s director has done during his career. Loach’s overarching message is a heartfelt one of the need for kindness and community for humanity to thrive. It is one that seems more important now than ever as we feel more disconnected and our world more disjointed than ever.
“The Old Oak” has some touching moments that will appeal to fans of Loach’s previous works. The result is a sentimental film about friendship and solidarity in some everyday lives. In short, this may not be the perfect swansong but it is a fine bookend to a brilliant career.