The Spirit of ’45

Dir: Ken Loach

Ken Loach has a remarkable track record in film-making spanning five decades. Easily one of the UK’s most acclaimed living directors, his greatest achievements include Kes, Land of Freedom, Carla’s Song, My Name is Joe, Sweet Sixteen and The Wind That Shakes the Barley. He has also made a number of documentaries. His socialist beliefs have been prevalent throughout his career, and his new documentary The Spirit of ’45 feels like a culmination of many years of work.

The Spirit of ’45 starts in 1945 at the end of the Second World War; the joy of victory is tempered by the uncertain times ahead. Memories are still fresh of the period of poverty and depression during the inter-war years. Loach looks back at that period, before highlighting the sudden change in society heralded by the election of Clement Attlee’s Labour Government in 1945; most notably the introduction of the Welfare State and nationalisation of industry, utilities and healthcare.

Loach uses film from Britain’s national and regional archives¸ alongside sound recordings and contemporary interviews, to create a rich political and social narrative of the period. My knowledge of the inter-war years is patchy at least, so I really found the part covering that fascinating. It also highlighted the abject poverty, mass unemployment and destitution faced by families and returning servicemen. The feeling of despair is all too eerily evoked by the use of archive footage and present day interviews.

As the years progress, Loach charts how the new social policy initiatives and nationalisation transformed the UK, improving the lives of those worst off. The interviews also add a rejoinder, as whilst these were a vast improvement, the people with power never changed. This rise continued until the Thatcher years, when the privatisation of national industries lead to the return to a situation mirroring that of the 1930s, and a change in mind-set.

The problem with The Spirit of ’45 is that Ken Loach is not balanced in any way, and it feels more of a personal crusade or propaganda film than an objective piece of documentary film-making. The post war years up until the late 70s are portrayed as idyllic, and he demonises Thatcher instead of tackling the real issues of ownership and money behind the political machinations. And whilst the principle of common-ownership he clearly espouses is a sound one, there is little telling us how this is likely to become a reality.

It is however an impressive documentation of the time and really gives you a flavour of the excitement and trepidation of the post war era.

The Spirit of ’45 opens at the Showroom on Friday