t h e s p i r i t o f ' 4 5
15th March 2013
24th March 2013
The Spirit of ’45 is a frustrating film. On the one hand, it is a fine piece of work, making interesting and thought provoking points about the national response to years of war and prior to that, years of embarrassingly high poverty. On the other hand, it is so brutally one-sided that it risks undermining all the positive points.
Telling the story of Britain in the aftermath of the Second World War is fascinating. A nation exhausted by two wars and a terrible period of neglect between the wars rises form the rubble and puts together a welfare state that still survives in many ways today. Loach uses current day interviews, archive footage and interweaves them to create his narrative starting from when the bombs stopped falling and running pretty much up to the present day. He describes in detail the new Labour government’s sweeping social reforms, particularly in relation to the creation of the NHS, and the nationalisation of major parts of the UK economy (utilities, coal mines, all transport).
To say this film leans to the left is a little like describing whistle-blowing in the NHS as a ‘poor career move’. It is borderline socialist propaganda. The total exclusion of dissenting voices is a real problem, leaving the fault for everything that is now wrong with society at the door of cowardly unions and, yup, you guessed it, Maggie (for it is she). Which is a real shame. A proper balanced view would have made this film superb. As it is, it is interesting and a great source for debate. Few of my generation will have paused to consider how the NHS and other social services that we take for granted were created and for this, the film is certainly worth a view. The idea of a whole nation pulling itself together and creating something for each other is something of an alien concept today and it’s difficult to argue that we are not worse off to a degree for this move. But we are not as worse off as this film suggests.
Loach rides rough-shod over any International dimension to the crumbling of the socialist utopia he seeks to illustrate. No room is found in the blithe statements regarding industry closures for the concept of global competition for goods and the docks are mentioned without even a hint of the word ‘containerisation’ - a baffling omission. Scenes of the working man and woman are countered with cringe inducing shots of the upper classes. A cut from coal mining to a fox hunt setting out is almost pantomime and a cut to the first shot of Maggie is only just missing the Mayor Quimby like post-production addition of devil’s horns.
I really can’t emphasise how much of a shame this is. The interviews are endlessly fascinating and the film works well in demonstrating just how astonishing the transformation of Britain was in those post war years. But for me the most interesting part is left with no investigation. It’s reasonable to say that the country would not have recovered as well if Labour hadn’t pushed through its radically socialist reforms, but why did it all then gradually fall apart? Maggie can be painted as villainous as you like and it doesn’t matter if you love or loathe her, she was democratically elected. So presumably at least some of the people who voted for the socialist ideals had moved across the aisle. Was the spirit of ’45 an integral part of the socialist re-building? And did that gradually crumble because people fell back from unity into being, well, people again?
I hope people see this movie because the rebuilding of the nation is a worthy, indeed almost incomprehensible, achievement to be shown. I just wish I wasn’t feeling the need for a right to reply.