Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...
Watch: James Bond Is Back In First Trailer For 'Spectre' Starring Daniel Craig, Lea Seydoux, Dave Bautista, & More Watch: James Bond Is Back In First Trailer For 'Spectre' Starring Daniel Craig, Lea Seydoux, Dave Bautista, & More Terrence Malick's Next Film With Ryan Gosling, Rooney Mara & Michael Fassbender Reportedly Gets Titled Terrence Malick's Next Film With Ryan Gosling, Rooney Mara & Michael Fassbender Reportedly Gets Titled Watch: Jake Gyllenhaal Gets Bloody And Bruised In First Trailer For Boxing Drama 'Southpaw' Watch: Jake Gyllenhaal Gets Bloody And Bruised In First Trailer For Boxing Drama 'Southpaw' New Infographic Lays Out Canonical 'Star Wars' Timeline With Films, TV And Books New Infographic Lays Out Canonical 'Star Wars' Timeline With Films, TV And Books First Official Image: Jesse Eisenberg As Lex Luthor In 'Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice' First Official Image: Jesse Eisenberg As Lex Luthor In 'Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice' Watch: First Trailer For Arnold Schwarzenegger's Zombie Pic 'Maggie' With Abigail Breslin Watch: First Trailer For Arnold Schwarzenegger's Zombie Pic 'Maggie' With Abigail Breslin Idris Elba Replaces Jamie Foxx In Harmony Korine's 'The Trap,' Al Pacino, Robert Pattinson, James Franco Also Join Idris Elba Replaces Jamie Foxx In Harmony Korine's 'The Trap,' Al Pacino, Robert Pattinson, James Franco Also Join 10 Terrible Films Starring Great Actors 10 Terrible Films Starring Great Actors Watch: Tom Hanks Acts Out His Filmography In 7-Minutes On 'The Late Late Show' Watch: Tom Hanks Acts Out His Filmography In 7-Minutes On 'The Late Late Show' New Directors/New Films Review: Jia Zhang-ke Produced 'K' Is A New Take On Franz Kafka's 'The Castle' New Directors/New Films Review: Jia Zhang-ke Produced 'K' Is A New Take On Franz Kafka's 'The Castle' Viggo Mortensen Reveals He Turned Down Quentin Tarantino's 'The Hateful Eight,' Auditioned For 'Reservoir Dogs' Viggo Mortensen Reveals He Turned Down Quentin Tarantino's 'The Hateful Eight,' Auditioned For 'Reservoir Dogs' Watch: First Teaser Trailer For 'Mission: Impossible: Rogue Nation' With Tom Cruise Arrives, If You Choose To Accept It Watch: First Teaser Trailer For 'Mission: Impossible: Rogue Nation' With Tom Cruise Arrives, If You Choose To Accept It Jonathan Nolan Says His Original Ending To 'Interstellar' Was “Much More Straightforward” Jonathan Nolan Says His Original Ending To 'Interstellar' Was “Much More Straightforward” The 50 Best Films Of The Decade So Far The 50 Best Films Of The Decade So Far The 25 Best Films Of 2015 We've Already Seen The 25 Best Films Of 2015 We've Already Seen Best Of 2014: The 15 Best Movie Soundtracks Of 2014 Best Of 2014: The 15 Best Movie Soundtracks Of 2014 The 25 Best Horror Films Of The 21st Century So Far The 25 Best Horror Films Of The 21st Century So Far The 20 Best TV Shows Of The 2013/2014 Season The 20 Best TV Shows Of The 2013/2014 Season From Worst To Best: Ranking The Films Of Hayao Miyazaki From Worst To Best: Ranking The Films Of Hayao Miyazaki All The Songs In 'Pitch Perfect' Including La Roux, David Guetta, Azealia Banks, Nicki Minaj & More All The Songs In 'Pitch Perfect' Including La Roux, David Guetta, Azealia Banks, Nicki Minaj & More

Berlin Review: Ken Loach's 'The Spirit Of 45' An Effective But Conservatively Presented Doc About Radical Social Change

The Playlist By Jessica Kiang | The Playlist February 14, 2013 at 10:02AM

British filmmaker Ken Loach has never been one to hide his politics. In fact the throughline to his long, exemplary career, whether on TV or in theaters, whether documentary or narrative, whether small-scale domestic drama (“Sweet Sixteen,” “Kes,” “Ladybird, Ladybird”) or sweeping historical epic (“The Wind that Shakes the Barley,” “Land and Freedom”), has always been one of social awareness and overtly left-wing sensibilities. His characters are often working class people chafing against the injustice and disenfranchisement of their societal roles in the face of powerful contemporary or historical forces. And nowhere is this more in evidence than in his latest film, documentary “The Spirit of ‘45,” which details the rise and fall of the British welfare state: the post-war socialist program of social reform and nationalization of industry, and the subsequent partial or total dismantling of these moves under Thatcher.
0
The Spirit of '45 header

British filmmaker Ken Loach has never been one to hide his politics. In fact the throughline to his long, exemplary career, whether on TV or in theaters, whether documentary or narrative, whether small-scale domestic drama (“Sweet Sixteen,” “Kes,” “Ladybird, Ladybird”) or sweeping historical epic (“The Wind that Shakes the Barley,” “Land and Freedom”), has always been one of social awareness and overtly left-wing sensibilities. His characters are often working class people chafing against the injustice and disenfranchisement of their societal roles in the face of powerful contemporary or historical forces. And nowhere is this more in evidence than in his latest film, documentary “The Spirit of ‘45,” which details the rise and fall of the British welfare state: the post-war socialist program of social reform and nationalization of industry, and the subsequent partial or total dismantling of these moves under Thatcher.

The Spirit of '45 2

The film, at least initially, is somewhat hampered by a rather uninspired format: its mix of talking head interviews and archive footage feels resolutely small-screen, and it takes some time before the collage of personal remembered anecdote and expert analysis builds up any real momentum. And, again in the first half hour or so, the film can seem so specific to the U.K. experience as to feel niche to outside viewers. But gradually its scope broadens and deepens, to build to a picture that is inarguably relevant to problems the whole world faces today. But what stops it from being a polemical screed is that Loach’s passion and idealism, and that of his subjects, are tempered by real pragmatism. The ideals of socialism here are not pie-in-the-sky wishful thinking, as Loach persuasively argues that they worked -- though not without their flaws -- but they really worked, and they could work again.

In his choice of subjects, Loach is impressively even-handed, peppering the longer segments from the ordinary people who had their lives changed during that period with occasional commentary from politicians, economists, and other cultural observers. But if the expert and professional analysis is responsible for widening the relevance of the film to the present day, and to a greater or lesser degree to the current socio-economic situation in almost every country in the world, it’s the stories of the older people who lived through these tumultuous times that give the film its considerable heart. So we hear about a man who until his dying day carried with him in his wallet the letter he got from the council to tell him he could pick up the keys to his house. We hear about the doctor who was suddenly allowed to treat a sick boy after the establishment of the National Health Service, and about the miner who, before the trades unions, had pulled the body of his friend from a collapsed shaft, because paid by the cartload of coal, none of the miners could afford the time it took to reinforce the struts properly.

The Spirit of '45 3

The archive footage too is carefully chosen and often quite wonderful, putting a human face on the whole gamut from pre-war squalor and wartime devastation, through the optimism and social experimentalism of the late '40s and '50s, and then moving to scratchy video footage of the riots and civil unrest of the 1980s. Every story needs a villain, and if the film makes heroes of the post-war politicians and leaders who pioneered these socialist reforms (Aneurin Bevan of the NHS comes off as an especially fascinating and dedicated public servant), it finds its antagonist in the shape of Margaret Thatcher, and there is a real sense of grief and loss -- the end of hope -- to the segment covering the strike breaking and privatizations that characterized her time in power.

One of the final grace notes is one of the contributors arguing forcefully (and it’s really moving to see the passion which these people bring to their discussion of that period even now, after all these years -- a sadly unusual depiction of the older generation as politically aware, relevant and engaged) that it is the responsibility of that older generation to educate the younger about this fascinating period in history. And that is clearly what Loach, himself born in 1936, having lived through all of these changes in the nation’s fortune and political outlook, wants to do. “The Spirit of ‘45” may not be, in style, a radical documentary, but it certainly succeeds in that ambition, and while to those on the opposite side of the political spectrum it will no doubt read as propagandist, in fact it really feels like it’s redressing an imbalance in the way we remember that period today. And that imbalance has affected our current attitudes more than we might think. With "socialism," as a word and concept, often bizarrely stigmatized and almost taboo, especially in the U.S., it’s refreshing and instructive to get this intelligent and often moving account of ordinary lives made better by it. [B]

This article is related to: Ken Loach, Berlin International Film Festival, Review


The Playlist

The obsessives' guide to contemporary cinema via film discussion, news, reviews, features, nostalgia, movie music, soundtracks, DVDs and more.


Check out Indiewire on LockerDome on LockerDome

E-Mail Updates