In “The Old Oak,” which screened in competition in Cannes, Ken Loach depicts a village in north-east England where an indigenous white community comes into conflict with Syrian refugees — a conflict fueled by despair, deprivation, and the decline of the Rust Belt. The director says such circumstances could be the seed of far-right groups diverse.
Such issues are not adequately explored in film and television, Loach says, and he contrasts the portrayal of the rise of Nazism in Germany in the media.
“We have endless programs about World War II, about the horrors of Nazism and fascism, about racism, about the Holocaust. Properly, we have endless programs about that, but what they refuse to point out is that that arose out of alienation, anger, a sense of deception, And finding a scapegoat. And that’s how we end up with Hitler, and that’s the ground on which the far-right thrives. One of the points of the film is to say, ‘This is the cause of fascism. This is its source. This is its primary source, and it comes as an inevitable consequence of our economic system. Because if the agenda Neoliberalism is a fundamental development of capitalism, to use the old word, so that’s where fascism comes in. Implicit in it is that the far right will rise because that’s the way people are going to go. And they know it and yet the media and the press turn their backs on it. They’ll tell us all about the horrors of Hitler. Absolutely. But they won’t tell us how he came to power. That’s the big lesson. And we see it at its core now all the time.”
The film depicts a pub, The Old Oak, its owner, and patrons in a former mining village devastated after the closure of the local mine, and the failure of the national government to provide alternative employment. The area is now a dumping ground for ex-prisoners, problem families from other parts of the country, and refugees, who are fighting for the limited resources the local government can provide.
Economic hardship in the region led to widespread poverty, and as hope receded, depression and despair took hold, worsening the sense of alienation among the local population, in stark contrast to the communal spirit that flourished when the mines were open. .
The bleak state of such places, Loach says, is “a consequence of the policies that have prevailed in the last forty years, since the arrival of Margaret Thatcher”. He explains that in the aftermath of World War II, the socialist government created a “welfare state,” which provided a safety net for working-class people, guaranteeing minimum standards in areas such as employment, education, health, and welfare. The destruction of that began in 1979, when Margaret Thatcher came to power, and everything was going to be returned to private companies. Therefore, everything became a source of profit. It also means that the business has to change.”
Under the welfare state, people had “a secure job, almost everyone had a job, they had financial security, they had a home; if they were sick, they were taken care of; they had an eight hour day. They could balance work and life”, as he says.
But after Thatcher, “it was all gone, and it was a return to the basic nineteenth century.” [economic model]: Workers are there to be put to the best use of large corporations because their policy is: If big business succeeds, we get their taxes, and from here we get our public services. It didn’t work out that way. And we knew it would never happen. So now you have these areas, like the Northeast, based on steel, and gone, based on shipbuilding, gone, based on coal mining, mining villages gone, crystallizing that destruction. So rows of shops with closed doors, no satisfactory work, the gig economy. You were hired and fired. paid per day. poverty wages. Kids who don’t have a future to look forward to, they take drugs, and God knows best.”
This unfortunate state of affairs is the result of a deliberate policy on the part of successive governments to destroy working-class solidarity, in the eyes of director and longtime screenwriting partner Paul Lafferty. “What has struck us since we started working together over 30 years ago is that this is a conscious thing; this is not a mistake. This is not people tripping over and not making things right,” says Loach. This is a conscious decision to destroy those communities because they were the politically active, politically conscious elements in society. Destroy them and wait for the market to come into action. Well, the market never did. Then the refugees. Yes, we have to take some of it but put it where no one sees it, just leave it there. Of course, against that, you have the old tradition of the mining industry and mining unions, which is solidarity. So, some people out there are aware of human connection and do what they can to be welcoming [the refugees] With resources that came from the local council only. It’s not the government, it’s the local councils.
But you have some places where the alt-right has made its way in its propaganda. So, there is resistance to these refugees, because you’ve heard of it before: They take whatever job we have. They take our services. You go to the doctors, and they are in front of us in line, and no one can understand what they are saying. They are in schools. Nobody knows what the kids say. Teachers don’t teach our children, they teach refugees. And so, of course, resistance mounts, and it chimes in with the press saying: We’ve let too many people into this country. It chimes with the government saying that, and just this week, just yesterday, the Home Minister, who is one of the top government ministers, said we cannot take in these refugees. So they blame the most vulnerable people. So, bringing all of this together is what we’ve tried to do.”
One of the most dramatic scenes in the movie is where the bar owner’s dog, TJ Ballantyne, is killed by two feral dogs belonging to local youths. It reflects the feeling that there is an almost deliberate attempt to pit people against each other, by the government or by other elements of society, such as the press.
Laverty points to the recent media frenzy faced by sports analyst Gary Lineker when he suggested that the rhetoric of government ministers regarding immigration was similar to that used in Germany in the 1930s.
“All you have to do is listen to the recent rhetoric. It’s a clear case of scapegoating. I mean, the whole thing Gary Lineker put his finger on. That was like a litmus paper test, right? This whole debate arose out of scapegoating. And the really cool thing is That there are many people on the move. But comparing Britain to Europe, it’s funny. Lebanon: a third of its population are refugees. Germany has taken in more than a million Syrians, a million Syrians. Great Britain has taken in 20,000 Syrians over five years. It’s a joke – it’s Humor. But they still manage to turn this into today’s big issue, and I think it’s because it divides people. It makes people afraid, it makes them feel afraid. And that’s a scapegoat political choice.”
He mentions a character in the film, Charlie, a friend of TJ’s who has fallen on hard times and blames refugees and other marginalized groups for his plight. “I think the character of Charlie was a lot of fun. In a way, you could have done a dramatic or melodramatic movie by entering the alt-right and organizing it and putting up posters and beating and scaring people and invading The Old Oak. But to our surprise, Charlie’s journey was much more interesting. How do people become The decent are like that? How did they lose their self-confidence? How did they lose their generosity? How did they lose this capacity for empathy? And this is a very interesting journey. And it’s a story of rot. The things that make the world civilized are torn apart piece by piece, very imperceptibly, and I think that’s what happens to a lot of people. “I’ve talked to many old miners, and I’ve been struck by some of their opinions. But they feel like their lives have been ruined, and so they beat them up, instead of looking up and seeing the big picture, and saying, ‘Who’s planning all this?'”