The Old Oak review: Ken Loach’s compelling portrayal of poverty
A pub landlord befriends Syrian immigrants in poignant Cannes drama The Old Oak.
It’s from director Ken Loach, who won the 2016 Palme d’Or prize with I, Daniel Blake.
Billed as the last-ever film from the director, it’s another social realist drama about poverty and solitary in modern-day Britain.
Set in the Northeast, it stars Dave Turner as TJ Ballantyne, the owner of The Old Oak, the only pub in a village that’s been hit hard economically.
When Syrian refugees are placed in local homes, TJ’s regulars are divided.
Some are suspicious, others openly hostile – but TJ is welcoming, volunteering to deliver contributions and befriending photographer Yara (Elba Mari).
Gradually, Yara and her family become integrated into the community, but some people are still unhappy.
While the dialogue sometimes feels a little too pointed and lacking in naturalism, the film has a compelling message.
This is a story about hope amid sadness and the power of human connection.
Both Turner and newcomer Elba Mari put in terrific performances, and it’s great to see their friendship slowly blossoming in difficult circumstances.
They connect with the idea that communal eating can help to build bridges, and it’s a pleasure to watch them put that into practice with the help of kind-hearted locals.
The story also explores how trauma and loss can bond people from vastly different worlds.
Yara comes from a war zone, while TJ and his friends are still marked by the events around the miners’ strike.
While it’s not a must-see, The Old Oak has an important point to make.
And there’s also something for dog fans: TJ’s adorable little pet Marra got a nod at the legendary Palm Dog Awards in Cannes.
The Old Oak is released on September 29, 2023.
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