'I'll struggle to get round the course again': Could The Old Oak be director Ken Loach's final film?

Ken Loach hinted to ITV News' Arts Editor Nina Nannar that his latest film is likely to be his last, as he believes he'll 'struggle to get round the course again'

Ken Loach, one of Britain’s most celebrated directors, is now 87 and has some eyesight problems - but he travels to our interview in central London on the Underground.

He is known for keeping it real, as evidenced by his output, often casting non-professional actors from the communities whose story he is telling.

Hence one of the lead actors from his new film, Dave Turner, is a former pub landlord  employed by Loach to play TJ, the landlord of The Old Oak.

The cast of unknowns have authentic accents because they are from the area where the film - due to arrive in cinemas next week - is set.

One notable exception is the Syrian actress Ebla Mari, who was a theatre teacher in a village in the Golan Heights when she was approached to play Yara, a character who tries to bridge the divide between the downtrodden former mining community and the Syrian refugees who are settled there.

Paul Laverty, Rebecca O'Brien, Ken Loach, Lesley Ashton, Ebla Mari and Dave Turner at the Old Oak premiere during the Cannes Film Festival. Credit: PA Images

Filmed in County Durham, a region badly hit by the closure of coal mines, Loach worked alongside his long-time screenwriter, Paul Laverty and producer Rebecca O’Brien, to depict a former mining village as it deals with the arrival of a group of Syrian refugees.

It has all the distinct elements of much of Ken Loach’s work over the past six decades - social realism, a focus on the working class experience, dialogue that is so natural you could well believe you were watching a documentary, and a message about how we live today.

From Cathy Come Home in 1966, which dealt with the practice of separating homeless families and was credited with helping to change government policy, to Kes and the heartbreaking scenes of working class poverty and the impossibility of breaking the cycle for those neglected by the education system. And of course I, Daniel Blake, with its harrowing scenes at a food bank, the director has never been shy to criticise what he sees as the failings of those in charge.

He has drawn controversy himself, most notably after his removal from the Labour Party in 2021 as it tackled accusations of antisemitism during Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership. He says he is unfairly targeted but says the criticism feels worse today because politics is far less benign than when he started his social campaigning.

He won’t say it explicitly, but The Old Oak is very likely to be Ken Loach’s last film. He says he doesn’t think he’d manage running a film set again, being the centre of it as the director.

So is that a definite no to any more films, I ask? I’m given a politician's answer. He laughs, as he skirts the issue.

Next week he will attend his last film premiere in Leicester Square, one which will be attended by some of the people he’s worked with over his career, likely to also include some of the cast of 1969’s Kes.

At least I am able to thank him for making Kes - my all time favourite film. He will have heard that before, many times.

Will he be able to resist making more films that speak to people and draw a similar response?

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