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Ken Loach’s documentary is “refreshing and radical”

The_Spirit_of_45_Dogwoof_1930_slums_copyright_BBC_400_225_85At a time when millionaire politicians (eighteen of the current twenty nine cabinet ministers are worth over a million) are telling us that “we are all in this together” the documentary “The Spirit of 45” could not seem more prescient, writes Ben Unwin.

 “We have been the dreamers, we have been the sufferers, now we are the builders” Aneurin Bevan

While a film about socialism from Ken Loach will be sending UKIP supporters and Daily Mail readers running for the hills (pausing only briefly to inform us that ten million Bulgarians will soon be coming the other way), for the more enlightened viewer this is a film that successfully shows what is possible when a government really has a powerful vision to improve the life of its people.

Told predominantly in black and white, Loach starts the story with heartfelt recollections as to the depth of poverty that working class people were subjected to before the Second World War. The suffering inflicted on people (who were part of one of the richest empires the world has ever seen) is now shocking in the extreme. Slums, poor insanitary conditions, inadequate health care and high rates of infant mortality were par for the course in a world “run by rich people for rich people”.

Ninety-year-old Eileen Thompson recounts how, when she was ten years old, her father took her to see the misery of the dole queue so that she would make sure that it would never happen to her. The film passionately explains that after WW2 popular feeling was such that people were not prepared to risk life and limb only to be returned into a life of toil and poverty. Tony Benn recollects that it was then when it occurred to him, and many others, that if Britain could achieve full employment killing Germans, then why not maintain full employment building schools, houses and hospitals?

As the film leads us through the Labour governments’ quiet staggering achievements (both in nationalisation and building the welfare state) it is impossible not to draw comparisons with contemporary Britain. After WW2 Britain’s finances were, to put it mildly, a disaster. But rather than cut back on spending they invested to create the jobs and infrastructure that would lead Britain out of recession.

Although it now seems an unfashionably outdated view that nationalisation is a good thing, anybody who has recently tried negotiating the vagaries of booking a rail ticket  will find themselves nodding in agreement as three generations of railwaymen discuss the benefits of a national rail system.

One of the most moving aspects to The Spirit of ’45 is the look on peoples faces as they recount the excitement of creating a new and more equal society where the idea of being your brother or your sisters’ keeper was not one to be cynically sneered at.

Unfortunately this sense of optimism could not last and ,while suggesting that some of the power still remained in the hands of a self-serving elite, the film takes a darker turn. Like all good horror movies there is a viscous monster to be revealed in the last third of the film. Step forth Mrs Thatcher. Ready to wage war on the unions and nationalise industry. Farewell idea of ‘a caring society’.

In invoking the image of Thatcher as evil re-incarnate, The Spirit of ’45 has received criticism in some quarters that it is too heavily biased to the left – which is akin to stating that Vlad the Impaler suffered from anger management issues. For this reviewer, in a world were we are being constantly told that free market capitalism is the only answer, Loach’s film feels refreshing and almost radical in its pro socialist standpoint.

As one interviewee comments: “Caring Capitalism is like the Arabian Phoenix. Everyone has heard of it but no one has seen it.”

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