You don’t need to share Ken Loach’s politics to be moved by his films. Over six decades, the socialist firebrand has found touching drama in the lives of everyday people.
The Old Oak, his surprisingly gentle final film, isn’t as tragic as Kes or as righteously angry as I, Daniel Blake.
But it’s heartfelt, sincere and makes a convincing case for the need for human compassion.
Set in 2016, it begins with a coach-load of Syrian refugees arriving in an impoverished former mining community in County Durham.
As they are shepherded off the bus, an angry man in a Newcastle United shirt unleashes a torrent of abuse.
A few years later, this chap may be cheering his team’s new Saudi owners but, here, he is far from receptive to the idea of Muslims arriving in the North East.
Thankfully, kindly publican TJ Ballantyne (Dave Turner) is there to protect the refugees from their welcoming committee.
TJ has plenty of problems of his own. The former miner and recovering alcoholic’s decrepit pub, The Old Oak, has been slowly falling to pieces since the 90s. His wife has left him and he’s estranged from his son thanks to his drinking.
When he steps in to help 20-something new arrival Yara (Ebla Mari), delivering food and clothes to her family, he also alienates his few remaining regulars. To them, solidarity should only exist among the locals.
House prices are plummeting, social services have been decimated, and the refugees are further proof that their village has become “a dumping ground”.
“Why don’t they look after them in Westminster or Chelsea?” one local asks, not entirely without reason.
To forge a new community spirit, TJ uses his old trade union connections to source donations and reopen the kitchen in the pub’s neglected back room so new and old residents can break bread together.
Some scenes feel overly sentimental but it’s hard to remain unmoved by Loach’s optimism and his undimmed faith in the human spirit. He will be missed.
The Old Oak, Cert 15, In cinemas now