The Old Oak, interview with Ken Loach and Paul Laverty

The Old Oak de Ken Loach © Joss Barratt / Sixteen Films

Theatrical on October 25: The Old Oak, the latest film in a 30-year collaboration between Ken Loach, double Palme d’Or winner for The Wind that Shakes the Barley (2006) and I, Daniel Blake (2016), and screenwriter Paul Laverty. In the pub of a former mining town in the north-east of England, regulars see the settlement of Syrian refugees with a bad eye. How can two traumatized communities coexist? Where can hope arise? At the age of 87, the committed filmmaker continues to relentlessly denounce the cynicism of the British system. Cross-talk.

What was your angle of attack on this film?

Ken Loach: The film is about conflict, deprivation and alienation, from neglect, from the political people who run things, from poverty. It is an area of England in the Northeast, which is an old mining area where the mines closed. And the right wing party, the Tories, that closed the mines, were determined not only to close down the industry, but to destroy the communities. The area has just been neglected for the last 40 years. Although there’s still the spirit of the solidarity of the miners when they were there, there’s also dissatisfaction and lack of hope. And into that area comes placed refugees from the Syrian war who have all those negative feelings, plus the trauma of being in a war and placed somewhere where most of them don’t speak English. How do they cope and how do those two groups find a way of living together, and can they? It is how those interactions play out, really, with the film of us.

Paul Laverty: Yes, I think what’s fascinating as Ken mentioned it is, since the 1984 miner strike, many of these communities were forgotten, alienated. And when you go and visit them today, you’ll see they’ve lost everything that makes a town and a community work: the library, the church, the pub, the shops are boarded up. That is a great tragedy. There are lots and lots of communities in deep trouble, but, at the same time, we still have this great, glorious past that we manufacture for ourselves. So there’s lots of echoes of hope in this story. I hope there will be.

As often in your cinema, everything depends on the characters. This time, the pub is one too, right?

Ken Loach: Paul always writes complex characters. And the central location is the old pub, the public house, the bar in the centre of the village. And the man who runs it is someone who began as a miner, he was a militant, he worked to bring people together. And then he bought the pub, and as the village has fallen apart, so his hopes are receding. And he sees the wreckage around him and it’s very hard to sustain, to be optimistic in those circumstances. In a way, he’s a man resigned to a failing situation.

With this film, we wanted to see how we could widen it: can we look at the notion of hope? And where do people find that? What nourishes people to build a decent life together?

How does the film shed new light on the British system?

Paul Laverty: I think there’s interest in, from our point of view, how it connects up with our two previous films. It is actually key to understanding how we ended up in a world with I, Daniel Blake and Sorry We Missed You. How did we once have trade unions when there was coherent working class organisation, where there was health? How did that become the world of the app of Sorry We Missed You, where people are working twelve and 14 hours a day? How did that change in consciousness happen? How do we get to people like Daniel Blake, who is once a very competent workingman, and who is systematically abused by a bureaucratic system? That comes part of a policy. We have to go back again to look what happened in the world of The Old Oak, and we’ll look back to 1984. That becomes almost poisoned by circumstances. And it’s to try and disentangle that and understand that.

Ken Loach: With this film, we wanted to see how we could widen it: can we look at the notion of hope? And where do people find that? What nourishes people to build a decent life together?