Almanac Cinema: Thank Goodness for Ken Loach



With ten hours to go in 2023, we finally saw a film to inspire us.


Other than The Sound of Freedom, it’s been a lean year for quality films. Perhaps the writer’s strike has something to do with it, but I found Napoleon and Oppenheimer ostentatious and as a Martin Scorsese adorer, I found Killers of the Flower Moon hugely disappointing.


Enter legendary British director Ken Loach and his most recent film The Old Oak. At 87 years of age this is his twenty eighth motion picture.


Funnily enough, every film we have been to at the beautiful Regent Theatre in Ballarat so far, there’s barely been anyone in attendance. Not so today. The room was packed with seniors which tells me either there is a strong market for independent films in Ballarat, or they all had free passes. I hope it’s the former.


If you’re not familiar with Loach films they typically consist of very simple plots and the main themes are generally poverty in the UK and the social issues surrounding them.


I can honestly say his stories and film making style, which are not dissimilar to Mike Leigh, can be so compelling that I’m always left mouth agape from beginning to end.


The Old Oak is no different. Even after two hours I was hoping there was another twenty minutes left.


Loach never uses big name stars. The three or four trained actors he uses may have a little TV experience or small parts in other films but what makes Loach so unique is that he uses everyday citizens from his locations.


The result is quite extraordinary. Half the time you could be mistaken for watching a documentary such is the reality and authenticity of the acting.


The Old Oak is very much a Loach film, set in an impoverished old mining village in England’s North East and features powerful themes around racism, unemployment and compassion.


When a group of Syrian refugees arrive in the town that is stricken with a bevy of social issues, a kind publican tries to navigate his way through the challenge of helping the refugees whilst keeping the peace with his locals. The following is a trailer.



One thing that is consistent within Loach and Mike Leigh films is the avoidance of cliché.


There are always moments where bad things happen, and in a Hollywood film you would predictably expect some form of revenge  to occur. It never happens with these guys but that’s real life isn’t it?


The Old Oak is another gem from a true master of film making. Apparently this may be his last film. I certainly hope not.



More from Ian Wilson can be read Here.



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About Ian Wilson

Former army aircraft mechanic, sales manager, VFA footballer and coach. Now mental health worker and blogger. Lifelong St Kilda FC tragic and father to 2 x girls.


  1. Good stuff Ian. I popped down to Cinema Nova in Lygon St Carlton to see this.

    It’s apparently his last film: at 87 years of age he’s certainly done the hard yards.

    Like all Ken Loach films it’s not a happy story. As always it’s about people doing it hard, about trying to make our world a better place. It shows that we can change things, it’s not easy, but by putting the hard yards in we can improve our world.

    The settings, the myriad of challenges facing the diverse community who revolve around the Old Oak are very real. Looking at life in contemporary Australia though the geographical settings are different to those of the Old Oak many of the points covered in this movie, resonate very loudly in our society as people become more disengaged from the decision making that impacts their lives.

    Good film, I highly recommend it.

    Happy 2024 Ian, keep up your good work.



  2. Thanks for the tip Ian. Will go and see it. Like you I found Napoleon and Flower Moon both disappointing. Thought Oppenheimer was excellent though. A couple of French films we saw earlier in the year were memorable. “Full Time” (streaming on Binge) is about a divorced single mother from a middle class background, not getting any help from her ex and thrown back into doing menial work as a chambermaid in a posh hotel to survive. The different social strata. And the whole complexity of navigating a big city like Paris with a child and no social support. Compelling drama as transport strikes and faceless corporations thwart her at every turn.
    “November” is a police thriller loosely based around the search for the terrorists in the wake of the Bataclan mass shooting in 2015. Talk about searching for a needle in a haystack. All the different threads of security agencies tripping over each other under intense pressure for answers. All the methogologies from old fashioned informers and street surveillance through to the maze of electronic eavesdropping and camera networks. Confusing and compelling – you feel a bit of what it must be like from the inside. Not currently streaming but you can rent it for $5 from the usual suspects.
    Happy New Year. Ballarat sounds a happening place.

  3. Thanks Glen! Maybe its my Liverpoodlian roots but I love Ken Loach and Mike Leigh films. The simplicity and realism gets me every time. We need more examinations of our own culture like what these guys deliver. The Boys was an excellent example of what can be achieved and then there’s the 70’s classics like Don’s Party that take a closer look at the real Australia. Much appreciated.

    Pete I’m going to have to agree to disagree with you on Oppenheimer. There is a 90 minute YouTube doco that I found more insightful but that’s fine. Thanks for the movie tips. I’m coming your way on 12/1 for a couple of weeks. I have an older brother in Safety Bay who hasn’t been well so I won’t be far away if you’d like to catch up for a Brownes or Masters Ice Coffee! Could you pls email me your mobile number and I’ll get in touch over there. Many thanks

  4. Thanks Ian and Happy New Year.

    We saw it yesterday at a packed (small) cinema and found it compelling, if difficult. There was much to discuss on the way home and over dinner on the patio regarding poverty and ignorance, and hope and despair. I’d prefer to be wrong but found the optimism of the conclusion a little unbelievable although I can understand the necessity of it for the audience’s benefit.

    Please keep these informative pieces coming!

  5. Ian Wilson says

    Thanks Mickey. Yes the ending was about as hopeful as Loach has ever been I reckon? Despite that like you I always find that with Loach and Mike Leigh films that they are discussed for a long time after having walked out of the cinema. Sign of a good film. I think it will be his last sadly. Maybe Leigh can continue to carry the baton and keep us riveted inside these claustrophobic little terrace homes! Cheers mate

  6. Thank you Ian
    Another great Ken Loach movie and other themes it encapsulates include racism and xenophobia.
    His universal themes could equally apply in Australia where Politicians and Public Servants have caused untold misery yet leave their positions with huge payouts and pensions for life eg Dan Andrews, Mark McGowan, Natasha Fyles, Nicole Manison, Michael Gunner, Christopher Pyne, Brendan Nelson, Turnbull, Morrison, Rudd, M Pezzullo to name a few. They have forgotten ordinary people and we see here how both parties have ignored their roots, their electorates, and lack common decency and are simply out of touch.
    Once pollies fought for workers’ right, housing, health, education and social justice.
    Now gender issues are pursued.
    Pollies and Public Servants have become subservient to Big Business and often find jobs, consulties there after retirement leaving others to clean up their mess.
    Traditional constituents have been delivered to extremists, racists and others.
    Ken Loach’s previous film I, Daniel Blake is just as intense and passionate, delivered in a real, intelligent
    and watchable way.
    And ask your local MP if they have seen these movies, what they learnt and how will they deliver.
    Don’t have high expectations.

  7. Great read IW.

    Packed Regent for a Ken Loach filum. Could they be Stockade descendants rallying around the metaphoric Southern Cross via one of the West’s last socialist film-makers final movie? Nah. I’d go with free passes.

    I trust you got something out of the Guardian piece ranking KLs career film/tv output. I thought I knew his work and I only knew half of the pieces on the list. Also, I didn’t know about The Old Oak until this essay, so thank you.

    And John, not sure I agree entirely with your summation. There are definitely pollies and public servants who have done harm; a recent notable example of a terrible federal government program is Robodebt. However, there are countless DSS, NDIA, SA and DEWR public servants as well as pollies and their offices (of all stripes) who have worked and do work with deep commitment and integrity to assist people to improve their circumstances though employment, housing, personal care, mental health services and financial support.

    I’m not sure if you are aware but a recent federal parliamentary report into its mainstream employment program, Workforce Australia, chaired by Julian Hill MP, cites I, Daniel Blake in its introduction, as a warning to government and service providers not to fall for the lure of bureaucratic efficiency at the expense of a person-centred approach to assisting people.


  8. You raise some good points Rick including the Rabodebt fiasco and behaviour of S Roberts et al.
    Look at the behaviour and arrogance of M Pezzullo.
    Look at the behaviour of the NT Government in the resignation of ex NT Police Commissioner Jamie
    Politicians settled because they didn’t want their shortcomings exposed in Court yet the taxpayer paid
    the huge settlement.
    How could the former Deputy NT Chief Minister do her job competently with 4 young children.
    Why is fracking allowed in the NT.
    Why was the McArthur River mine deposit for land rehabilitation significantly reduced?
    Look at the politicisation of the Public Service.
    Our Poltical system is out of date and needs renovating.
    The best and smartest are not attracted to Politics.
    For starters we could do without State Governments.
    How can it be justified that Governor Generals earn $700k pa and pay no tax, including former ones.?
    Why is the waiting list for Public Housing so long?
    How many politicians benefit from negative gearing.
    Common sense and a sense of fairness, justice is obviously in short supply
    If Ken Loach was an Aussie he would have rich and ceaseless material in truckloads.

  9. Oh no, Ian. Oppenheimer and Killers Of The Flower Moon each a tad disappoiting, but not Napoleon.

    What about those battle scenes at Waterloo and earlier (in the 1790s) the successful siege at Toulon,

    I don’t think I’ve ever seen, CGI or otherwise, battle scenes like director Ridley Scott gave us.

    One other really disappointing movie, late 2023, was Kenneth Branagh’s A Death In Venice. Poirot will never be the same after David Suchet’s long TV run as the liittle moustachio-ed Belgian detective.

    Branagh’s outsized moustaches just make Poirot look ridiculous..

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