The Spirit Of '45

The Spirit Of '45


Reviewed by: Sophie Monks Kaufman

If reading about austerity measures - whether bed losses at your local hospital, benefit cuts to vilified groups, library closures, evictions or any of the nationwide cuts incites you to wonder whether this is legitimate democracy, Ken Loach’s timely documentary provides a heartfelt answer. The Spirit of ‘45 booms "no" in the most coherent and poignant of ways by resurrecting a time when parliament was humanistic and created the NHS, pleasant council homes and numerous Acts to enable working stability for the many.

Lefties and Loachites will swoon over an offering whose social points are knitted together via absorbing archive footage, colourful interviewees and a firm historical understanding of the mood and legal processes that led to the development of the welfare state. But this is not just a film for the converted. Like Independent newspaper columnist Owen Jones, Ken Loach has found a way to take the arguments of socialism, shake off their alienating jargon and plant them in a bed of simple, gentle fellow feeling. Considering the current climate, you might expect a film couched in the anger and bitterness of a sore loser but The Spirit of ‘45 is true to the time it channels, with a prevailing mood of camaraderie providing an arc that inspires rather than depresses.

Copy picture

Loach takes his time to set the post-war mood of exhilaration, before feeding in stories of interviewees who grew up experiencing interwar poverty of the grim bed-sharing with vermin variety. It was the lives of these people that changed, courtesy of a Labour administration headed by Clement Atlee and armed with the heroic Minister of Health, Aneurin Bevan.

As the narrative advances deftly through the years, a panoramic view is created from a wealth of well-chosen material. Whether it’s a lady with an insouciant face posing in the middle of V-Day street party, politicians talking from within a crowd, or rolling soundbites extracted from speeches and Acts of the day, what you get is a lovingly crafted people’s history.

Edge comes courtesy of sharp contemporary thinkers able to ring the changes between then and now. A medic crunches the numbers on money wasted on privatisation, while a fabulous chap intones: “A caring capitalist is like the Arabian phoenix. Everyone’s heard about it but no one’s ever seen one.”

At 94 minutes, it’s all killer, no filler. The Spirit of ‘45 manages to be both an entertaining history lesson and a mould of inspirational governance that held like a cookie cutter over the current administration, shows how far we’ve strayed from the egalitarian path. The perfection of a critique that compares and contrasts is that it leaves us with a vision of past unity which should speak to the downhearted forever.

As Bevan says in one typically rousing moment: “We have been the dreamers, we have been the sufferers, now we are the builders”. Ken Loach has made his name around socially conscious films, but this is his most personal and generous gift, a gorgeous reminder that part of the cycle of progress is dreaming, which everyone can do – with or without centralised permission.

Reviewed on: 16 Mar 2013
Share this with others on...
A documentary about the spirit of unity that developed in the UK during the Second World War and contributed to the formation of the Welfare State.
Amazon link

Read more The Spirit Of '45 reviews:

Val Kermode ****

Director: Ken Loach

Writer: Ken Loach

Year: 2013

Runtime: 94 minutes

Country: UK

Search database: