Ken Loach at Cannes: 'working class is undefeated'

British film director Ken Loach gestures as he arrives for the screening of the film 'The Old Oak' during the 76th edition of the Cannes Film Festival in Cannes, southern France, on 26 May, 2023.AFP

At 86, British director Ken Loach showed he still had fighting spirit at Cannes, presenting his latest moving homage to working class solidarity and saying: "we're still in the game".

Loach has had no fewer than 15 films in competition at the Cannes Film Festival -- and won the top prize Palme d'Or twice.

His dedication to left-wing causes and showing the often harsh reality of working class Britain remains undimmed in his 16th entry, ‘The Old Oak’, which premiered on Friday.

It tells the story of a struggling pub in a depressed ex-mining town in northern England, whose landlord helps Syrian refugees despite his own problems.

Deadline called it a "vital, moving social parable" and The Guardian a "fierce final call for compassion".

Despite widespread anti-immigrant feeling in Britain, Loach said there are still many working class communities who have shown solidarity with refugees.

"We have a tradition of solidarity born out of industrial struggle," Loach told AFP at the festival. "There are whole sections of people who campaign for refugees."

He said ‘The Old Oak’ was a necessary blast of positivity after more downbeat recent films, ‘I, Daniel Blake’ (which won the Palme in 2016) and ‘Sorry We Missed You’.

"Without hope there's despair, and then you're open to the far right and that destroys us," Loach said.

"The working class is not defeated, we're still in the game."

Asked about still directing in his mid-80s, Loach joked: "If you get up and read the obituary columns and you're not in them, it's a good day. But I've been lucky to keep some health."

Hard graft

His long-time writing partner Paul Laverty was full of praise for Loach's dedication, saying the director still worked late for months on end to cast the film from local communities.

"That was like six months hard graft," Laverty said, before having a friendly dig: "That's fine when you're 30 but when you're 105..."

Laverty had far less kind things to say about Britain's politicians, saying that Home Secretary Suella Braverman, known for her anti-migrant rhetoric, displayed "remarkable cruelty".

"She's a scumbag who lives off the misery of other people," said Laverty.

Solidarity used to mean "joining together and sharing," Loach said.

"Today, it means charity... giving a small amount to the poor provided they are grateful and deserving and don't cause a fuss and look like victims."

Speaking about the deterioration of the National Health Service, Loach said "the extent of the crisis is catastrophic".

"We have the most sophisticated political class in the world controlling the image of Britain, but you look inside and it's rotten to the core."