The Spirit of '45 - review
Directed by Ken Loach
Ken Loach’s documentary about Clement Attlee’s revolutionary post-war Labour government has been widely criticised as little more than a party political broadcast.
True, it’s highly partisan and skates over inconvenient facts such as how union intransigence helped make Margaret Thatcher so popular in the late 1970s. Nevertheless, it’s impossible not to be awed by the speed and scale of Labour’s reforms — from nationalising utility companies and the railways to instituting the National Health Service and an extensive programme of building council housing.
It’s also impossible not to be appalled by the level of poverty in a country as rich as Britain, which still controlled one of the world’s greatest empires but was happy to let many of its workers subsist in overcrowded, disease-ridden slums. There are interviewees in Loach’s film who remember sleeping five to a bed amid infestations of fleas, and how doctors would send around debt collectors to extract their fees from those who hadn’t paid.
The experience of collaborating for the common good during the war gave the working class the courage to press for a more co-operative, fairer society and visionary politicians such as Aneurin Bevan, Stafford Cripps, Hugh Dalton and Ernest Bevin were there to translate that momentum into action.
Alas, poor old Tory Winston Churchill ended up on the wrong side of history after the war, visibly discombobulated in front of an open-air crowd in 1945 who taunted him by chanting “We want Labour!” The tide had turned; Loach documents just how spectacular that turn was.