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The Old Oak

“Solidarity Not Charity”

Why am I feeling so good about the downer that is Ken Loach’s The Old Oak? Well in part because the social realist director, in his swan song, is as good as ever with his social justice initiative attacking the Conservative Brit government (in power since 2006!). It’s about a mining town in Northeast England, in 2016, where the mines are gone and the quality of life degraded, and where Syrian refugees are placed in County Durham by the government.

While The Old Oak Tree is not as strident as his 2016 Palm d’or winner, I, Daniel Blake, which skewered the UK benefits system, Loach still has a heavy hand showing the plight of the working class and the indifference of the power classes. More specifically, he here lambasts anti-refugee racism.

The only meeting place in town is The Old Oak pub, now a hotbed of rankling over the resources the immigrants command. Pub Owner T J (Dave Turner) turns out to be sympathetic to the Syrians, and youngish Syrian Yara (Ebla Mari) with a camera turns out to be an inspiration for TJ to do important things. Their mutual support, thankfully for once with no hint of romance, draws in more townspeople starting the solidarity Loach encourages.

The Home Secretary’s slogan “Stop the Boats” never appears in the film, but it can be heard in the town’s white working-class force that does not want the Syrian’s there, and through TJ, who talks for the liberal Loach. Most characters at the least seem to represent either left or right—artistically an impediment but socially impressive.

The movement toward solidarity, not favored by rank-and-file pub regulars, rather than charity is the hallmark of social realist Loch and writer Paul Laverty’s approach to solving complex problems like this, allegorical relevance increasing as it applies to the Mideast and the Ukraine to cite only two.

“It's the hope that causes so much pain.” Yara

The Old Oak

 Director: Ken Loach (The Wind that Shakes the Barley)

Screenplay: Paul Laverty

Cast: Dave Turner, Ebla Mari

Run Time: 1h 53m

Rating: NR

John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts NPR’s It’s Movie Time and Cinema Classics as well as podcasts Back Talk and Double Take (recently listed by Feedspot as two of the ten best NPR Movie Podcasts) out of WCBE 90.5 FM, Columbus, Ohio. Contact him at

John DeSando