The Old Oak, possibly Ken Loach’s final film, is his least challenging for some time, and that’s perhaps why it’s an easier watch than normal. A northern English town sees the arrival of several Syrian families made refugees by the Assad regime; TJ, the owner of the local pub, begins a friendship with Yara, a daughter of one family. The film draws a connection between the displaced Syrians and British former mining communities, both of which groups have had their ways of life taken from them, and sees communal dining as a means to embrace other peoples and practise solidarity. We find it easy to see its cogs turning, and simplistic in its attitudes and characters, but although The Old Oak shows its share of misery and loss, it also conveys a hopeful feeling at times. An interesting film that will generate conversation, and worth seeing.
Returning to Newcastle after shining his coruscating lens on the inhumanity of the benefits system in I, Daniel Blake, Ken Loach now casts his eye on the gig economy and the exploitation of workers in Sorry We Missed You. A struggling dad and husband gets a job as a delivery driver, coerced into handling unfair responsibility and meeting impossible targets, with the stability of his family bearing the brunt of the stress.
José argues that Sorry We Missed You only tells us what we already know; Mike contends that its dramatisation makes it scarily real. We’re in agreement that it’s not especially interesting filmmaking, though, José suggesting that Loach doesn’t trust images to convey what he wants. And José has never enjoyed his depiction of the working class, finding it unrealistic at best, with no joy or love available to his films’ victims, though he agrees – with some relief! – that there is love in the central family here. Although there’s a lot to criticise in his often mechanical filmmaking, we agree that Loach makes meaningful films with which he sincerely wants to make a difference, and that’s admirable to say the least.
If nothing else, Sorry We Missed You inspired Mike to try and do one nice thing for a stranger upon leaving the cinema, and that must mean it’s a work of genius. If, however, you are already someone who does nice things, then you may find it less inspiring, though it is in some respects vital. It won’t do you any harm to wait until it’s shown on telly though.
The podcast can be listened to in the players above or on iTunes.
After the screening of ‘I, Daniel Blake’ an elderly man stood up and shouted at the auditorium, ‘We are the fifth largest economy in the world and this is a disgrace.” There were only five of us there. I felt moved to hug him, though the best I managed was to put a hand on his shoulder. That a film can do this is amazing. Yet, I don’t think it’s a good film. It’s preachy, relentlessly grim, you see things coming a mile away, and know it’s going to go from grim to grimmer to grimmest. It holds no surprises. It offers no delights. Images highlight or evidence the telling rather than constitute it as part of dramatised show and tell. Yet, if I were to put a document in a time capsule to evoke how a sector of the British population lived today, this is what I would choose. According to The Guardian, ‘Statistics released by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) revealed that during the period December 2011 and February 2014 2,380 people died after their claim for employment and support allowance (ESA) ended because a work capability assessment (WCA) found they were fit for work’. This figure is higher than that of all UK service personnel killed in action since 1962. What happens to Daniel Blake in the film is shocking. Yet it is happening recurrently and relentlessly all over the country. Those who voted for such policies should be ashamed. Ian Duncan Smith should be brought to an international tribunal to answer to those statistics. The film is true and effective. Yet why do I still persist in thinking that it is not a good movie?Is it possible that it’s also false? That all poor people aren’t so nice and mutually supportive ,so in solidarity with each other? The Cannes Palme D’Or could just be evidence that ‘I, Daniel Blake’ is merely how the French prefer to see the British. Should we change our criteria of value? Apply different ones? Likewise, the film made me wonder: is it that I can’t confront reality or that I don’t agree with Loach’s view of it; and what aspects? It’s an undeniably powerful film, an important one, with a final speech that bears testimony to current conditions and is sure to draw tears from a stone. I was sad to see such a low attendance. But how good a film is it? I’m still not sure and suspect it’s very flawed indeed.