20 December 2023

‘The Old Oak’ film review

Written by Hetty Mentzel from Durham STAR
Looking to watch a meaningful movie to enjoy over the Christmas holidays, don’t miss Ken Loach’s latest release! Since October, several of our STAR groups, including Plymouth, Oxford, Cardiff, Nottingham, and Southampton, have organised screening events at their universities.
In this blog post, one of our amazing student leaders from Durham STAR shared her insightful review of this impactful film, exploring its themes and expressing her thoughts. Discover why she believes this film is a must-watch for everyone!

What’s the film all about? 

Ken Loach, known for his ability to capture the raw essence of societal struggles, chooses Durham as the backdrop for his latest masterpiece, ‘The Old Oak’. Set against the backdrop of the city’s iconic landscapes, this film weaves a narrative around the lives of TJ Ballantyne, owner of the dilapidated local pub, and Yara, a Syrian refugee relocated to the town. 

The cast’s performances, notably the portrayal of the characters’ struggles and triumphs, are a testament to the filmmaker’s commitment to telling stories that resonate with working-class communities. The characters’ journey in ‘The Old Oak’ mirrors the resilience and tenacity that defines local community in the face of economic and social challenges.

How did I find it? 

Living as a student in the historic city of Durham, where a distinct mix of academic life, local communities, and ancient history echo through cobblestone streets, watching Ken Loach’s ‘The Old Oak’ feels like a poignant exploration of our human need for collective empathy and resilience. 

The Old Oak pub, a central element in the film, becomes a metaphorical sanctuary for the characters—a place where the bonds of community are strengthened amidst the challenges they face. It’s impossible not to draw parallels to the local pubs that we all know in our communities that have served as meeting points for generations, witnessing the ebb and flow of the city’s fortunes.

The film doesn’t shy away from addressing contemporary issues, and its relevance to Durham’s socio-economic landscape is undeniable. Loach skilfully navigates the complexities of these issues without losing sight of the humanity at the core of the narrative about the struggles facing communities, be they refugees or local residents. The sheds light on the struggles of those displaced by economic hardship and societal upheaval, overcoming barriers of borders and background.

Loach’s attention to detail in depicting Durham’s distinctive landscapes and the genuine warmth of its people lends an added layer of authenticity to the film. The residential streets, the impressive Cathedral, and the daily domestic insight of homes facing hardship—each frame is beautifully crafted to welcome you in and keep you on edge. 

Top 5 reasons to watch it:
  1. Authentic Portrayal of Social Realities: Ken Loach is renowned for his ability to authentically capture the struggles of the working class. ‘The Old Oak’ is no exception, offering a genuine and unflinching look at the challenges faced by outwardly different individuals in a community grappling with economic hardships. The film tackles current issues such as economic inequality, job insecurity, and the impact of industrial decline, making you smile, cry and certainly think.
  2. Character-Driven Storytelling: ‘The Old Oak’ excels in character development, sensitively portraying lived experiences of individuals who embody the resilience, camaraderie, and determination of a community facing adversity. The film elicits a range of emotions, from empathy for the characters’ struggles to moments of hopeful triumph within tragedy. The emotional depth and authenticity of the storytelling and acting make ‘The Old Oak’ a moving and memorable viewing experience.
  3. Celebration of Community Relationships: At its core, ‘The Old Oak’ celebrates the strength found in community bonds. It highlights the significance of shared spaces, like the eponymous pub, where people come together to support one another, forging connections that transcend economic challenges.
  4. Cultural Commentary: Beyond its narrative, the film offers a nuanced commentary on culture, community, and the enduring spirit of a place. It prompts viewers to reflect on the importance of preserving heritage and fostering a sense of belonging in new and imaginative ways that can work to the benefit all.
  5. Cinematic Craftsmanship: Ken Loach is a master storyteller, and ‘The Old Oak’ showcases his skill in crafting narratives that are both poignant and visually captivating. The film’s cinematography, direction, and attention to detail contribute to a rich and immersive cinematic experience.

‘The Old Oak’ is a testament to the power of storytelling, the strength of communities, and the human spirit’s ability to endure. Whether you’re a fan of socially conscious cinema, appreciate character-driven narratives, or simply want to witness a glimpse of Durham on screen, this film offers a compelling and enriching viewing experience. It’s a reminder that, like the sturdy oak trees that have witnessed centuries pass, the spirit of community remains unyielding, grounded, and deeply rooted.

Find out more about The Old Oak and watch the trailer here:

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