Review: The Spirit of 45

The Spirit of 45

The Spirit of 45 - Credit: Archant

In terms of giveaway titles, a film by Ken Loach called The Spirit of '45 is up there with an Agatha Christie called The Butler Did It.

You get exactly what you'd expect – a stubbornly no-thrills celebration of the achievements of the post-war Labour government and, in particular, Nye Bevan, the architect of the welfare state, who nationalised the railways, docks and mines and introduced decent social housing and the NHS. It is followed by a lament of the betrayal of those ideals.

This is one of those old-fangled documentaries – with, like, facts and stuff and no snazzy graphics or dramatic reconstructions. It is made up of archive footage and interviews.

The bulk of the film about the living conditions in the depression-hit Thirties, the background to Labour's landslide general election victory and the building of the welfare state is thoroughly involving and illuminating.

At this point, Loach throws in one of the largest jump cuts in film, whisking us straight from the 1951 Festival of Britain to Thatcher quoting St Francis of Assisi on Downing Street.

It' s not quite the ape's bone becoming a spaceship in 2001, but it is a hell of a leap and I think audiences deserve something more detailed than just Thatcher Did It.

Growing up in the 1970s, I can remember the acute sense that British Leyland and British Rail were national jokes. I can also remember the Winter of Discontent. The film may brush over them, but they must be buried deep in the national psyche. How else do you explain how people can talk for hours about our terrible rail service, yet hoot derisively at any suggestion they be renationalised?

Most Read

This film sees everything in black and white, literally. Of course, a lot of the archive footage is black and white but everything else, the interviews and even the news footage from the 1980s and beyond, is presented in the drabbest possible monochrome. Maybe this is supposed to denote integrity and earnestness but coupled with a stubbornly simplistic approach, it's the film grammar of the defeated.

Its tale of enormous optimism frittered away should be one to stir you and have you weeping buckets, but the most I felt was jaded despair.

The film doesn't inspire and doesn't properly commemorate the architect of the welfare state. Americans at least know how to celebrate their great leaders on film. We should get Guy Ritchie to make a film called Nye!


Director: Ken Loach

Length: 93 mins