10 October 2023

Ken Loach, finally

Ken Loach became famous in the 60s with films like ‘Cathy, come home’ and ‘Kes’. I didn't know about that, of course. I first had to be born. Then I spent the first 12 years of my life not going to the cinema. And even once I started that I didn't really have Loach in my view. But then, in 2009, I moved to Britain, which clearly is Loach Country. 

Since I've lived here, he made five films that I didn't see. I was very aware of ‘I, Daniel Blake’ and ‘Sorry we missed you’, but when he made these I was already living in Wales, and I didn't have a strong cinema habit. The nearest cinema is and was Pontio, and that isn't the most attractive of venues for me, as it is a university building. I go to university every day! It feels much less like an evening out than most cinema evenings would be. And it is not particularly far, but it is far enough to not bother too often. In Plymouth and York the threshold was lower as at least I lived in the very town where the cinema was. And I also didn't really have a film mate to go with. So I saw neither of these films!

Then ‘the Old Oak’ was released. And it is rumoured to be his last film. This was my chance! So I booked tickets for a viewing in Caernarfon. That is much more a night out than Pontio. 

I had seen the trailer, and I figured it wasn't difficult to figure out what the narrative would be. An impoverished pit village where Syrian refugees are being housed, which makes the local community angry. They have nothing; why is this overstretched community expected to deal with even more people who have nothing? But then someone manages to bring the two communities together. I still wanted to see the movie. How did he make it all play out?

You find out that the protagonist is lonely pub landlord who just wants the best for people. He has a bunch of regulars in his pub, which just about keeps the place afloat. But not by much margin. And then he forms a friendship with a young female Syrian refugee. His regulars want to use his pub for a meeting in which they express their anger at the refugee situation, and he refuses. Then the Syrians and sympathetic locals want to use it to bring everyone together; he agrees to that. The events are a success, but the regulars feel utterly betrayed. Why are the Syrians given preference over them? And they sabotage the whole thing.

It ends on a hopeful note, of course. It is not suggested at all that everything is hunky-dory when the credits roll, but at least there is something constructive going on.

I'm glad I've seen one now! And you indeed don't go for the surprises; there were two big plot twists that I saw coming from a mile away. But that's OK! I still enjoyed it. And I think quite a lot of the actors aren’t professional actors. I am one of those people who associate Durham with Durham Cathedral and Durham University. I never have anything to do with the marginalised former mining communities. And it's good to be reminded of that world as well. I suppose that in a way, Bethesda is a bit like that, but with the big downfall in the first years of the 20th century rather than in the 80s thereof. I'm sure some people here have nothing. And I quite like sticking my nose into local community initiatives like that sustainability thing, and, way back, the wholefoods co-op. At a film like this emphasises the importance of such things!

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