Journalist and IMIX Steering Group member, Zarith, reviews Ken Loach’s latest film, The Old Oak which follows a group of Syrian refugees settled into a small post-mining village in the Northeast – and even catches up with the director himself at the London premiere.
I am deeply grateful to have attended both the private screening of The Old Oak and the premiere in Leicester Square at the end of September. This gave me an opportunity to understand the British societal psyche on the difficult subject of immigration, migrants, and racism. This is heavily politicised at a time when the Ukrainian-Russian war continues and the UK general election next year looms.
The film’s opening scene was a bit triggering for me as a person who faced blatant racism two decades ago when I encountered a similar situation in the north of England, coming from a relatively harmonious and multicultural country. It is upsetting and alarming that this worrying sentiment hasn’t gone away in this increasingly ‘hostile environment’ that the current government continues to foster.
At the premiere, the film’s acclaimed British director Ken Loach spoke about manifestations of hope on the screen, based on true events. He declared, “If you have hope, then you have confidence to make changes. If you don’t have hope, then you’re in despair and there is no future, you’re alienated from the world & the people in it.” He also added that if you have hope, then there is possibility that we can work together and be strong enough to make the changes. He warned that if ‘our’ side is fragmented, sectarianism amongst the people will make everyone divided.
I managed to catch up with Mr. Loach privately after the screening. He mentioned the film’s objective of common humanity triumphing over prejudice but admitted that the politics behind it all keep the working class divided. As I noted to him, this divide and conquer approach is akin to how the British Empire behaved. Mr. Loach believes positive perceptions of migrants, people seeking asylum and the displaced are changing a bit, but the right-wing keeps whipping up negative sentiment in the public.
Mr. Loach mentioned that the British public should understand that a major cause for people to flee their countries destabilisation created by Britain herself – for example, in Iraq and Afghanistan. He thinks that we need a stronger United Nations (UN) in order to defend human rights.
Seeing the film twice gave me a different perspective. The second time was even more impactful as I was sitting with another person seeking asylum who had just lost his father due to war.
I also had the chance to interview the whole cast and to understand their point of view, including why they wanted to be part of it. One of the film’s actors, Chris McGlade mentioned that the working class has been resentful towards governments which are successively sidelining them. They feel they have been left behind and also brought up the issue of people seeking asylum who are being exploited working illegally.
Steve Coogan, who also attended the premiere, wanted to see more of these kinds of films being shown. He said they are a great antidote to the hateful right wing.
Siân from the British Red Cross said it was a powerful yet moving film. I also interviewed three young people who concluded that it was extraordinary and hopeful, but still traumatic. They described it as highly nuanced in terms of the characters, with realistic and relatable representation. They noted the part where the photo collage is shown as a moment of respect and beauty in diversity. In the movie, Yarra’s speech in the cathedral was so moving and was like a coping mechanism as her country was destroyed but at the same time presented hope in the future. As Ken Loach stated earlier in the evening, ‘hope is political’.