Director Ken Loach and writer Paul Laverty speak to Nick Grant about their new film ‘The Old Oak’
In their 15th film together director Ken Loach and writer Paul Laverty confront a subject that could hardly be more relevant. They thrust us into the dramatic bitterness felt by both an abandoned British community and weary refugees. Set in north east England, audiences watch a group of Syrians arriving in a derelict former mining area.
Right from the start we find a Newcastle United football-shirted bloke bellowing insults at a group getting off a coach. Trying to referee the situation is pub landlord TJ Ballantyne. Loach and Laverty don’t simplify the harsh realities of everyone caught in this situation. Tory and Labour governments and councils have taken jobs, education, training and pensions from old and young workers.
The refugees have lost out too—from family members to mental and physical health. Both are short of money and self-respect, loaded down by the most elementary of human needs. Dave Turner as TJ is utterly convincing as the worried, pragmatic manager of The Old Oak pub. He jostles the demands of regulars who carp on about the new arrivals with his wish to give the new arrivals a break.
TJ’s wife has divorced him and his estranged son has left him, so his dog is his only companion. He walks a fine personal and political line to survive. Loach told Socialist Worker that this character is key. “Everything around him shouts out despair,” he said. “From what’s happened to the community, the nature of work, the conscious cruelty to vulnerable people and the uses of hunger.