Film Review: The Spirit of ’45

East of the M60 what is on probably one of the most important film releases of 2013

  • Dogwoof Productions/Film 4/Channel Four Corporation (94 minutes, Black and White/Colour, ‘U’ certificate);
  • Directed by Ken Loach.

Squalor, Ignorance, Want, Idleness, Disease: five words which the Liberal Lord Beveridge wanted to eradicate forever after the extreme poverty leading up to World War Two. Today, the party which his successors are in, are colluding with the Conservatives to revive Beveridge’s Five Giant Evils. ‘Squalor’ could refer to the inadequate accommodation people may be force to endure to avert the Bedroom Tax; ‘Ignorance’ could be expressed by the dominance of a Tory sycophantic press.

By May 2015, it will be ‘Never Again, Again’, and hopefully with a return to the spirit of 1945, which saw joint efforts hitherto used in fighting fascism channelled towards winning the peace. A peace which meant slum clearance; a National Health Service based on need instead of ability to pay; transport and utilities under democratic ownership. Ken Loach’s latest film aims to motivate anyone yearning for a fairer world, and does so very well.

The film comprises of archive footage dating from the end of the Second World War up to 1951, and 1979 onwards. Though the archive film was well chosen, its real ‘stars’ were the people interviewed in the film. They included retired steelworkers, miners, nurses, shop-stewards and Tony Benn. Detailed within the interviews were recollections of how things changed under Labour in their childhood. Retired workers recalled changes in culture under public ownership. For example, an ex-miner cited the lack of safety in the pit before the National Coal Board was formed in 1947.

I was touched by their stories and the archive film, filling up when I heard how one was happy when the NHS arrived. Equally so, later on in the film with the footage of Orgreave whilst thinking of shouting something unspeakable (which wouldn’t have been tolerated in the auditorium). Needless to say, I silently booed when T******* first appeared on the screen (How I wish the 100 or so others in Screen Two of the Cornerhouse did).

‘Spirit of ’45’ is presented in a most accessible way suitable for general audiences of all ages. Though some people thought Loach’s political leanings may have ruined the film, I didn’t find it didactic at all. The public contributions on Attlee’s term, and present situation, were heartfelt. They also served as a reminder as to how useful public services are now, and gave us an insight on pre-1945 public service provision. One which under present company in Westminster, could be around the corner.

In 2013, neoliberalism has led us towards 1930s era public squalor and private splendour. Like 1933, London and the South East had grown at the expense of Northern England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Child poverty is reaching similar levels. University entry is just as hard in 2013 as it was in 1933, being a preserve of the wealthy.

Therefore, the timing of Spirit of ’45’s release couldn’t be better. Before you leave this world, see this film. Stop everything, even leave the dog with another relative. Then leave the cinema, hopefully inspired and motivated towards ending Beveridge’s Five Great Evils for good, defending our NHS and other public services. Take your relatives, get your children away from Facebook or the like. Get it watched!

The Spirit of ’45 is on at the Cornerhouse, Oxford Street, Manchester till the 21st March. It will also be shown at the Small Cinema, Miners’ Community Arts and Music Centre, Teddington Road, Moston, from the 22nd to the 28th March.

S.V., 17 March 2013.

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