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In The Old Oak director Ken Loach brings his career to a close as you’d expect him to: with a story that highlights social injustice with warmth, humour and leftist, middle-of-the-road moral lessons.

It's been a year of goodbyes. Hayao Miyazaki released his final film, Woody Allen probably did so as well and with The Old Oak British filmmaker Ken Loach also calls it a day. Of those three it probably is Loach's film that will satisfy loyal fans the most.

As usual the subject is rooted in today's societal struggles, as the Old Oak confronts the inhabitants of a slowly dying mining town with an influx of Syrian refugees in their community. Trying to bridge the gap is the owner of the titular local pub, who has some personal demons to exorcise himself.

The movies of Ken Loach are as comforting as a cup of tea on a Sunday afternoon and while The Old Oak isn't anywhere near his career best efforts, the picture is a decent farewell for the humanist director. Yes, the morals are predictable, as is the narrative, but as usual Loach coaxes fine performance from his expertly cast actors and is crystal clear about the message he wants to convey.

There are moments in the film that work wonderfully despite their predictable tearjerking approach - the bond between the publican and his dog is of particular note - but overall the emotional punch is muted by the casual storytelling, both in screenplay and in visuals.

This of course is what elevated Loach to the upper echelons of European filmmakers in the first place, so it seems fitting that he bows out on a picture that is as quintessentially Loach as they come.

release: 2023

director: Ken Loach

starring: Dave Turner, Ebla Mari, Claire Rodgerson, Trevor Fox


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