“When you eat together, you stick together.” An electrifying mantra of solidarity pulsates relentlessly through the heart of The Old Oak, Ken Loach’s latest and potentially final project. Loach’s signature political fervor surges through every frame of The Old Oak, igniting an inferno of righteous anger and empowering vitality. On the surface, the film is a love letter to the hope and inspiration that refugees breathe into our communities. However, beneath that layer lies a call to rally behind the labor movement and a subtle push for revolution.
The film champions community and sharing, emphasizing their importance in building collective spirit and unity. It is a testament to solidarity, where each frame and shared meal strengthens human bonds.
The film begins with an act of sharing, a collage of photos being taken by Yara (Elba Mari), a Syrian refugee, as she and several others are being resettled to a former English mining town. For Yara, photography is a means of self-expression, allowing others to see how she views the world. But beyond passion, her connection to photography goes deeper, as it tethers to her father — a Syrian national trapped in the clutches of an unknown fate amidst the turmoil.
When her camera is shattered by a xenophobic local upon arrival, Yara is devastated. As the perpetrator refuses to pay for repairs, pub owner Tommy Joe “TJ” Ballantyne (Dave Turner) offers to fix it, bonding with Yara through photography. Photography also connects TJ to his family history, showcasing a room of black and white photos taken by his uncle. These photos document the town’s mining worker strike, artfully highlighting TJ’s father’s heroism and highlighting the town’s resilience.
The miners’ challenging jobs form the backdrop, but the photos delve deeper, showcasing their unity in protest. Today, though, with the mines closed, the once-bustling town has lost its vitality, leaving its residents feeling aimless and discouraged. Yara ponders the parallels between this loss and the aftermath of the Arab Spring’s hope turning to oppression.
Inspired by a 1980s photo, Yara and TJ organize free meals for the community at the Old Oak pub. TJ emphasizes solidarity, not charity, aiming for integration and leveraging refugees’ strengths for collective growth. The movie powerfully emphasizes that simply giving to charity is like putting a temporary fix on a big problem.
Instead, the solution lies in full integration. The movie effectively emphasizes the idea that giving to charity is only a temporary solution for serious problems. By fully accepting and integrating refugees and oppressed workers, we find a cure benefiting all. In addition, the movie implies that a complete revolution is necessary to address these issues within the capitalist system.
While regulars oppose Yara and TJ’s community event, the script empathizes with them, revealing prejudice as learned behavior influenced by political forces. The film astutely points to the real villains of the story, reminding us that they lurk beyond the screen’s confines. The film ends with the community uniting and finding strength, hinting at a hopeful future. The Old Oak represents a world beyond existing systems, where community governs. It envisions a world where labor and community empower, urging a genuine revolution against oppressive systems.
In a saddening interview, Ken Loach claims that The Old Oak will likely be his final film as he begins to lose his sight. However, while Loach’s eyesight may weaken, his vision will live on. Much like Yara’s photography allows her community to see the world through her eyes, in a final act of sharing, The Old Oak, invites us to view the world through Ken Loach’s revolutionary and brilliant mind.
The Old Oak releases in theaters in the United Kingdom September 29.