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Review: The Spirit of ’45

March 13, 2013

Film + Entertainment | by Francesco Cerniglia


The Spirit of 45 Dogwoof Clem Attlee_Labour Party Victory Night 1945 copyright PeopleÔÇÖs History Museum

What do you expect from a Ken Loach? Gritty realism? Honest emotional portrayals? Political commentary? An easy ride? Yes to all of the former and no to the latter. Loach’s latest film, The Spirit of ’45 accounts Labour’s post-war election victory and, as one would expect, Loach doesn’t sit on the fence with his latest engaging look at how socialism affected the course of twentieth century history.

Loach uses old stock footage alongside commentary from those at the heart of the working class societies he portrays, including retired nurses, mineworkers and dockworkers. The film covers the squalid conditions that many Britons were left in due to mass poverty following the Second World War and shows the drama that surrounded the election of a Labour Government – with Attlee at the realm – with a nation looking for hope and change. Loach’s film strongly praises the creation of the National Health Service, as a revolutionary concept that became a brave and forward thinking reality, that is now so under threat. Loach shows the hope and camaraderie that a national system can offer individuals by protecting the vulnerable and providing work, plus the self esteem it brings to all members of communities. Loach moves on from the highs of 45 and the years following to Thatcher’s election in 1979 and the change in stance with a government that favoured a highly capitalist system and the idea of strengthening the individual at the expense of groups. Loach challenges the regular negative portrayals in the media of union workers being greedy or lazy, offering the harsh realities these individuals and communities faced across Britain, as their livelihoods were stripped away from them.

The politics aren’t really explored in too much depth in this film, as Loach prefers to offer a more contextual understanding, with personal firsthand accounts giving the story a human core. There’s no voice over so the film feels less like a school fact trip and more like a linear tale in which you are encouraged to be emotionally gripped. Yes, 90 minutes isn’t long enough to cover such rich and fascinating history, but The Spirit of ’45 strikes a chord and makes you engage with the affairs and actions that played out to shape our country. This film is very relevant as it defends the NHS whilst also exemplifying how groups can unite to bring about necessary changes that propel society forward, just look at the recent passing of legislation to legalise same-sex marriage.

The Spirit of 45 Dogwoof 1930 slums_copyright BBC

Whether you like Loach’s films or have an interest in British Social history and politics or not, this film certainly makes you think about and consider social change and effect. Loach is back in familiar territory with this film, as his films have always approached topical issues in Britain, such as the 1980’s miners’ strike, but with his latest offering he takes a more encompassing approach, stepping back to consider the course of history in it’s entirety, a history in which the stories he portrays have been played out. It’s a no holds barred piece of cinema that offers strong views and is all the better for Loach’s convictions and the clear messages that he so proficiently puts across on screen. The Spirit of ’45 will certainly provoke and get you thinking.

Kerry Flint.

The Spirit of ’45 is released in the UK this Friday 15th March.