Thrown to the Wolves

The Old Oak

Director: Ken Loach

Cast: Elba Mari, Dave Turner, Claire Rodgerson, Trevor Fox, Chris McGlade, Jordan Louis, Joe Armstrong, Debbie Honeywood, Neil Leiper

Running Time: 1 hour 53 minutes

Film Rating: 7.5 out of 10

Language: English & Arabic

Festival: European Film Festival

With an authentic screenplay by Paul Laverty, The Old Oak is a brilliant social drama about two vastly different communities being forced to live together in Durham, Northern England in the new film by 87 year old British Neorealist film director Ken Loach who also brought the incredible films Land and Freedom and the Irish drama The Wind that Shakes the Barley starring Cillian Murphy.

After its well received premiere at the 2023 Festival de Cannes, The Old Oak has no film stars in it, but authentic people, both British and Syrian who are forced to live in close proximity with their only neutral space being The Old Oak, a traditional British pub run by TJ wonderfully played with compassion and sensitivity by Dave Turner.

When Yara, a budding photographer and Syrian refugee arrives in England with her family after escaping the cruelty and atrocities imposed on the Syrian population by the Assad regime, herself and fellow Syrians are treated with hostility by the local former mining community, working class people in Northern England who are at once ignorant but also slightly curious at these completely foreign people arriving and living in their once tight knit community.

Yara is wonderfully played by the beautiful Elba Mari who strikes up a friendship with the pub owner TJ who is desperately trying to hang onto his pub, while his regulars in perfect harmony denounce the arrival of the Syrians calling them names and bemoaning the fact that Westminster has decided to dump refugees in Durham and not in Chelsea or central London.

Ken Loach is known for making razor sharp social dramas dealing with current problems with the British working class and has always portrayed a more socialist viewpoint on the working class as they really are, often poverty stricken, weary of foreigners and salt of the earth people whose community bonds bind them together in mutual distrust of any outsiders.

Screenwriter Paul Laverty gets the pub banter down perfectly of the local regulars at The Old Oak especially conveying the significance of the traditional British pub as the centre of the community and an icon of British culture.

Yara keenly uses the lens of a beautiful camera, which her detained father gave her before they fled Syria to capture the significance of the Syrians arriving in Northern England in 2016.

Director Ken Loach, previous winner of the Palm d’Or for I, Daniel Blake and The Wind that Shakes the Barley is adept at providing a significant film The Old Oak about two different communities fighting to find a neutral space, a venue where they can eat together so that they can stay together.

Ironically, during his highly impressive film career, director Ken Loach has had a bigger following in Europe than in the UK, but his films are always worth watching as he awakens the viewer to social issues which often do not make entertaining film content: xenophobia, cruelty, impoverishment and bigotry.

As a fine example of British Neorealism, The Old Oak is an absorbing tale of two people that find common ground and in doing so draw their respective communities together despite the desperate situation both communities face.

Gritty and authentic, The Old Oak is a clever film, socially insightful and extremely well written and directed, it is worth seeing especially to glimpse a side of Britain which is not mainstream.

The Old Oak, one of Ken Loach’s more complex social dramas gets a film rating of 7.5 out of 10. Highly recommended viewing.

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