The Old Oak (2023)

October 26th, 2023
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir: Ken Loach | Wri: Paul Laverty | Cast: Dave Turner, Ebla Mari, Claire Rodgerson, Trevor Fox, Chris McGlade, Jordan Louis, Chrissie Robinson | UK Drama 117′

A far cry from his early hits Kes and Poor Cow, The Old Oak is another disingenuous sob story from Ken Loach and his pal Paul Laverty who joins him, on script duties, in eschewing a traditional narrative and rolling out the cliched pros and cons when a group of Syrian refugees are plonked into a village in County Durham. 

Naturally the locals aren’t best pleased when the busload arrives in the former mining town. Ressources are already stretched as it is and things can only get worse (which is presumably why most of the disgruntled locals voted Brexit).

That all said, Brits and Syrians gradually settle down into a modus vivendi as they get to know one another and realise everyone’s the same at the end of the day and just wants a simple life.

But what plays out is far from simplistic, and Laverty makes pleasing use of the vernacular with some seasoned old chestnuts peppered with expletives aplenty in telling the tale. And to be fair on old Ken, his latest is far and away a better film than his 2016 agitprop I, Daniel Blake. much loved and lorded by our friends abroad. This at least feels real and genuine with well-formed characters, and there’s a lovely scene set in Durham Cathedral. 

Robbie Ryan’s careful camerawork, a few laugh-out-loud gags and some naturalistic performances from a cast of newcomers – especially the two leads: Dave Turner and Ebla Mari, make The Old Oak unexpectedly moving and amusing despite the mawkish, over- protracted ending. Not a patch on Kes or Poor Cow though. MT


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