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Ken Loach has said that The Old Oak, his latest feature, will be his last. Probably.
Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter ahead of what will mark his 18th film premiering at the Cannes Film Festival (his 15th in competition), the veteran filmmaker, who turns 87 in June, acknowledged that “realistically, it would be hard to do a feature film again.
“Films take a couple of years and I’ll be nearly 90,” he said. “And your facilities do decline. Your short-term memory goes and my eyesight is pretty rubbish now, so it’s quite tricky.”
Loach said that while he had little issue on The Old Oak dealing with the physical demands of long working days required during production, it has become harder to sustain, “with good humor,” the “nervous emotional energy” he needs to set the tempo during a shoot and to keep that momentum going.
Loach, of course, has “retired” before. When he brought Jimmy’s Hall to Cannes competition in 2014, it had been previously revealed as being being his final feature film. But the election of the Conservative Government in 2015 and resulting cuts in social care led him to step back behind the camera for 2016’s I, Daniel Blake. The film, a powerful attack on the U.K.’s benefits system, would earn Loach his record-equalling second Palme d’Or (after 2006’s The Wind That Shakes the Barley) and became a rallying cry for social justice around the world. He followed this up in 2019 with Sorry We Missed You, a sharp attack on the fragile and damaging nature of the gig economy, told through a story of a man working for an Amazon-like delivery service. Presenting Sorry We Missed You in Cannes, Loach, again, said that the film would be his last to grace the Croisette. It wasn’t.
The Old Oak, which like I, Daniel Blake and Sorry We Missed You, is also set and shot in the northeast of England, revolves around the last pub standing in a former mining village that has fallen on hard times after 30 years of decline. The watering hole becomes a hotbed of tension following the arrival of Syrian refugees.
Loach says he went into the film knowing that it would probably be his last.
“I’m just not sure I can get around the court again,” he said. “It’s like an old nag at the Grand National. You think, good God, I’ll be falling at the first fence!?”
If it were to be Loach’s final feature, The Old Oak will mark the end of a career spanning more than 60 years from a director whose compassionate focus on the struggles of the working class has made him one of the most celebrated and iconoclastic filmmakers of his time. A sampling of his best-known works includes social-realist classics Kes, Raining Stones, Sweet Sixteen and My Name Is Joe; the historic dramas Land and Freedom and The Wind That Shakes the Barley; and such comedies as The Angel’s Share and Looking for Eric. He’s arguably the most successful director ever at Cannes. Alongside his two Palmes, he’s won the festival’s Jury prize three times and picked up three FIPRESCI honors from the international film critics’ association. His long list of honors includes a BAFTA, a French Cesar and two European Film Awards for best film. Kes was named the seventh best British film of the 20th century by the British Film Institute.
While Loach may claim The Old Oak will be his last narrative feature, he hasn’t ruled out making another documentary, said Paul Laverty, his longtime writer and collaborator (The Old Oak marks their 16th film together).
“That wouldn’t so absolutely overwhelming — you wouldn’t have that massive casting,” he said. “But I’d be very surprised if he doesn’t do something. I think it’s in his blood really. And he’s still got lots to say.”
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