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The Spirit of '45

Admirable documentary from Ken Loach about the creation of the welfare state in post-war Britain

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The Spirit of '45

With the coalition’s axe in full swing, Ken Loach takes us back to 1945 and the creation of the welfare state. His documentary is part history lesson, part rallying cry, and is a timely reminder of the benefits of pulling together and of what we stand to lose.

Told in nostalgic, sobering monochrome, The Spirit of '45 balances the personal and the political, combining talking heads with political mission statements. The spirit of ’45 itself is described as a post-war euphoria, a feeling of 'anything is possible' - that never again would things be 'run by the rich for the rich'. This is the remarkable story of the rejection of war-time hero Winston Churchill (shown being heckled at a rally) and the rise of a revolutionary Labour party, led by Clement Attlee. Attlee won the 1945 general election by an unexpected landslide, established the NHS and swiftly set about nationalising utilities and industry and housing the poor. The film then jumps, a little jarringly, to 1979 and the election of the ideologically oppositional Margaret Thatcher.

At a time of comparable economic crisis, Loach’s film makes a persuasive case for investment over cuts. However the film's partiality is a source of both humour and occasional frustration: the Conservatives are emphatically the villains of the piece with Thatcher a comically demonic presence, yet Labour's own shifting stance is skimmed over. Moreover it lacks Loach's lightness of touch, seen so often in his narrative cinema - his flair for deftly channelling political messages through entertainment. Despite the best efforts of its contributors, The Spirit of '45 lacks passion and colour, the latter quite literally. This is undeniably an admirable film but it would have benefited from a little more of the titular spirit.

Limited release from Fri 15 Mar.

The Spirit of '45

  • 3 stars
  • 2013
  • UK
  • 94 min
  • U
  • Directed by: Ken Loach
  • Written by: Ken Loach
  • UK release: 15 March 2013

Documentary about the Attlee government's post-war creation of the welfare state, the sense of national consensus that it created and how many of its achievements were attacked by the Conservatives. Admirable and persuasive, but it could do with a little more lightness of touch.

The Spirit of '45 Trailer - In cinemas 15th March

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