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“The Spirit of ’45” (2013) A Film by Ken Loach

Loach45Ken Loach is one of the UK greatest working film makers and his body of work brooks no argument, even from those who do not share Loach’s political opinions. His back catalogue boasts a wide range of films; from the documentary style of “Cathy Come Home” (1966), to the pathos of “Kes” (1969) and the wide cinematography of “Land and Freedom” (1995) Loach has proved himself as a master of a variety of film styles and genres.

Navigators” (2001) pilloried the folly of privatisation of public services as we are flies on the wall watching the destruction of our rail industry via casualisation, cutting of corners safety wise and observing the human impact culminating with a wholly preventable death of a worker hit by a train. Then we have the comedy of “Looking for Eric” (2009) when a hapless single father seeks advice from an imaginary Eric Cantona to sort his life out. Loach’s finest work for me is the peerless “The Wind That Shakes the Barley” (2006) which tells the epic story of the Irish War of Independence which culminates in the tragedy of Civil War. Cillian Murphy and Liam Cunningham deliver stunning performances as brother on different sides as the conflicts rips the nation apart.

At the heart of Ken Loach’s work is an examination of the human condition, but with the explanation that Capitalism is at the root of what ails us as a species. “Carla’s Song” (1998) takes us to Central America via Glasgow and we see how across the globe we share problems which are caused by the unequal allocation of resources. In “Raining Stones” (1993) the action is confined to a Manchester Estate where Bruce Jones’ character is reduced to scavenging and borrowing from a loan shark to obtain enough money for his daughters First Holy Communion dress. These issues are played out daily across the UK as the vile evil leeches of Wonga and the suchlike bleed our people dry until they can no longer cope and take their own lives.

Loach is lionised by the left and it’s the equivalent to farting in church to criticise him in some quarters. But we should be self confident enough of what we believe in, and of our socialist values to be able to point out weaknesses as well as strengths in his work.

There has always been a little voice in my head about Ken and it was given credence by “My Name id Joe” (1998) and “Sweet Sixteen” (2002). It tells me that Loach has a rather patrician and patronising of working class life, and there is a smidgeon of stereotyping. Heavy drinking, coarse language and sexual proclivity to casualness are themes in working class life, but I feel he overdoes it at times. 

Spirit of ’45” is absolutely the right film at the right time. We are in the greatest and longest crisis of Capitalism since the 1870’s. Never mind the 1930’s Depression. This disaster is longer and deeper for the working class in the UK. The theme of “Spirit of ’45” is that with a debt FIVE times greater than we have now, the UK built 2 million homes, nationalised the means of production so the the people owned the resources, and opened the jewel in the crown of this nation; the NHS.

The film is a superb and moving narrative of how that Labour Government delivered for the working class and framed the consensus of publicly owned services which even the Tories were forced to accept until the Thatcher era. 

From that view it is a brilliant story of how socialist values can be put into practice, and is a tool to educate today’s workers. But the talking heads are not diverse enough and we hear no alternative argument about why that Government ultimately failed. The question needs asking. If it was such a fantastic Government, why was it kicked out effectively after one term, with the biggest swing against a sitting UK Government in electoral history? The working class put them in, and then booted them into touch after just six years. This needs explanation. 

Crucially there is no discussion of what lessons we can take, and indeed learn from the successes and setbacks of that era put in a modern context. There needs to be positive things we can act on as well, otherwise it can be accused of being an exercise in misty eyed wallowing in a false past, something that I imagine Loach did not have in mind.

To me there a number of reasons why Attlees’s Government perished. Firstly the management of the Nationalised services and industries was not put in the hands of the working class. Therefore resentment against Management became rife as workers felt the carrot had been dangled, but when it came down to it Management still believed in the stick approach. Future Nationalisation must have democratic control of the workplace and the Co Operative model of worker management should be explored.

Secondly the Attlee Government was beset my massive bad luck; the winter of 1946/7 was the worst in recent history and when combined with rationing and being in the midst of reconstruction of the nation, the results were enormous suffering for a great number of people with the right wing press blaming the Government for not reacting in a more organised fashion. “Shiver with Shinwell” (Minister for Energy) was a notable headline of the time. In addition Chancellor Stafford Cripps was easy fodder for satire. He was a vegetarian who rose at 4am and started the day with a cold bath. He expected the rest of the country to follow suit and it was under this Labour Government that the dreaded word “austerity” first reared it’s ugly help. Cripps, in order to conserve precious fuel, heavily restricted trawler activity. To make up for the fish shortfall he ordered a massive import of snoek fish from South Africa. It tasted so awful that it was unsaleable and ended up as cat food. It was under Cripps that “pragmatism” ie cuts and squeezing spending began, and socialism went on the back burner. 

Finally, like Tony Blair Clem Attlee was seen to be too close to US President Harry S. Truman who kept us waiting over financial aid, and then tied it to our acquiescence in their foreign policy via our entanglement in Malaya and then sending troops to the brutal and bloody Korean War which cost 1139 British lives, nearly three times the number of troops killed in Afghanistan.

Overall this is very worthwhile film, and it’s best viewed as basis for discussion in Union and political party forums. Good, but could be better is my verdict. 7/10


About dermotrathbone

Writer and co author "Through Red Lenses". Activist Unite the Union, Save Our NHS Hull. Fan of Yorkshire County Cricket Club, Hull FC, Munster and Ireland Rugby. Views are mine alone and may not reflect the organisations concerned.


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