Must-See: Ken Loach’s Heart-Wrenching Masterpiece ‘The Old Oak’ Will Leave You Speechless!

In the world of cinema that centers around the struggles of the working class, there has always been one towering figure, as sturdy as an old oak tree: Ken Loach. This acclaimed British director, known for his political stance, has given us unforgettable films like “Kes,” “Riff-Raff,” “The Wind That Shakes the Barley,” “I, Daniel Blake” and “Sorry We Missed You.” So, it’s quite fitting that his latest offering is titled “The Old Oak.”

At 87, if this is his swan song, Loach is signing off in his signature style – a protest placard in one hand and a glass of beer in the other. “The Old Oak,” penned by Loach’s long-time associate Paul Laverty, is an ode to the last standing pub in a neglected northeastern English town. The film showcases Loach’s unwavering commitment to his cause and his relentless faith in it.

The narrative unfolds in 2016, introduced through monochrome images of Syrian refugees – mostly mothers, children, and the elderly – being relocated in the mining town of Durham. The film’s audio is dominated by the locals’ loud, prejudiced objection to their arrival. The story then shifts to a young refugee woman named Yara (played by Ebla Mari), whose initial encounter involves a crude man who violently takes her camera and destroys it.

TJ (played by Dave Turner), the middle-aged owner of the pub, is appalled by the locals’ behavior towards the refugees. Lonely and kind-hearted, he offers to get Yara’s camera fixed, sparking an unlikely friendship rooted in shared pain – her home and family ravaged by war; his community battered by economic decay and fear. This fear is routinely seen in the Old Oak’s regulars who see TJ’s kindness towards Yara and the refugees as a betrayal.

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However, the walls of the pub’s long-closed backroom hold a reminder of unity – photographs from the 1984 miners’ strike when a community stood together. TJ takes it upon himself to revive this room, turning it into a meeting place for the refugees and the town’s impoverished youth. As the story unfolds, Loach and Laverty realistically portray the struggle to cultivate hope while acknowledging the dangers of deep-seated resentment.

While Loach’s films often express anger about the social issues they tackle, their driving force is always the depiction of unity and empathy amid injustice and oppression. The casting in “The Old Oak” is authentic, with newcomers like Mari offering a flawless portrayal of resilience, beautifully complementing Turner’s depiction of wounded compassion. Trevor Fox, in a crucial role as a regular pub-goer, aptly portrays the hurt and suspicion that can distort genuine responses to a stranger’s hardship.

Loach is one of the few filmmakers whose works have led to tangible societal changes. His 1966 TV film “Cathy Come Home” spurred the U.K. to address homelessness. While it is uncertain whether “The Old Oak,” despite its deep emotional resonance, can have a similar impact in today’s world, we can still appreciate this fiercely passionate director’s unwavering focus on unity and the fight for justice. His career is a testament to the strength of solidarity and serves as a powerful reminder that the struggles of others are also our struggles, worth standing up and battling against.

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