wed 21/02/2024

DVD/Blu-ray: The Old Oak | reviews, news & interviews

DVD/Blu-ray: The Old Oak

DVD/Blu-ray: The Old Oak

Ken Loach's angry, emotive swansong packs a real punch

Solidarity, not charity: Dave Turner and Ebla Mari as TJ and Yara

Margaret Thatcher’s witless assertion that “there is no such thing as society” dates back to 1987; Ken Loach’s The Old Oak offers a belated but powerful rebuttal.

His film highlights several discrete societies coexisting in a depressed Durham mining village. We meet a group of ex-miners who eke out pints in the titular pub, frustrated that the terraced houses they struggled to buy are now being bought up for a pittance by property companies. And there’s the coachload of Syrians who pitch up in the opening scenes, greeted with a mixture of bewilderment and open hostility. In between are people like Dave Turner’s bluff pub landlord TJ, caught between the need to keep the locals happy and his desire to help the newcomers. Intervening when photographer Yara (Ebla Mari) has her camera smashed during an altercation, the developing friendship between the pair is the most affecting strand in Paul Laverty’s screenplay, the details about TJ’s and Mara’s past lives revealed gradually as the film progresses.

It's to Loach and Laverty’s huge credit that we feel sympathy in varying degrees towards the entire cast. One drinker’s remark that the village “has become a dumping ground” is borne out in one of this disc’s extras, revealing that cheap housing is the reason why the North East has become the home for more Syrian refugees than any other part of the UK. A teenager complains when he sees TJ deliver a second-hand bicycle to a Syrian household, unable to comprehend that the new inhabitants have lost everything they owned. Working with Mara and Claire Rodgerson’s aid worker Laura, TJ reopens a dilapidated back room in the pub to host a communal meal for the entire village, his mistake being having previously refused to allow the room’s use by villagers wanting a public meeting to discuss the Syrians’ arrival.

olComplaining that much of what unfolds is predictable feels mean-spirited, and it’s exhilarating to watch a film driven by anger and compassion in equal measure. Loach shows us that most people are fundamentally decent and charitable, and there’s a brief, powerful sequence showing TJ's exasperation as he scrolls through the poisonous comments about his philanthropy posted on social media.

There’s a moving detour to nearby Durham Cathedral, beautifully shot by cinematographer Robbie Ryan, and Loach secures winning performances from a large, diverse cast. I’d have liked to have known more about why Mara’s younger brother is assaulted after an incident at his new secondary school, and the tragedy which draws the community together near the film’s close feels as if it’s been shoehorned in. Still, there’s sense of guarded optimism in the closing minutes; watch Loach discuss the need for hope in a bonus interview and you’ll feel that all is not lost. He’s on record as saying that The Old Oak will be his final film: if that’s the case, this is a fine way to bow out.

it’s exhilarating to watch a film driven by anger and compassion in equal measure

rating

Editor Rating: 
4
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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