The Old Oak
Stars: Dave Turner, Ebla Mari, Claire Rodgerson, Trevor Fox
Scripted by long-time collaborator Paul Laverty, the final part of venerable British director Ken Loach’s North-East trilogy and indeed his last film (and we’ve checked) is a typically passionate and timely paean to solidarity set in the ‘North of England’, but clearly Durham. TJ (Turner) is a divorced middle-aged man who runs the titular pub in a neglected ex-mining village. The Old Oak’s regulars mainly consist of local men who are resentful that the Government, taking advantage of low property prices, have placed a large number of desperate Syrian refugees in the community, pushing house prices, as one of TJ’s punters Charlie (Fox) points out, even lower. One such refugee is Yara (Mari) a photographer whose ability to speak English makes her spokesperson for the Syrians. TJ befriends her after an incident with a local. Later he opens up the back room of his pub as somewhere for the refugees and poorer locals to eat. The communal meals help foster a spirit of community, but ill-feeling from his regulars puts TJ’s livelihood at risk.
This feels like a valedictory effort from Loach, in both the pub debates that recall the gripping meetings in ‘Land and Freedom’, and an incident midway that brings to mind his classic ‘Kes’. There is the odd moment of overwrought melodrama and contrivance, but Loach elicits wonderfully naturalistic performances from his mainly unprofessional cast, particularly the soulful turn from Turner as TJ, an inherently decent and quiet man with a troubled past, making a stand and reaching for redemption. Mari’s Yara has a lovely moment of grace and emotional release as she visits Durham Cathedral and comes across a choir performance. Cinematographer Robbie Ryan’s warm rendering of the dusty pub is elegiac and melancholy.David Willoughby
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