Review by Cole Groth
Ken Loach’s latest film to release in theaters isn’t new. Released in 2013 in Britain, The Spirit of ’45 is a documentary finally seeing the light in the United States a decade after its release. It brings a unique perspective on the economic state of Britain a decade ago and works very well as a statement on the politics of America in 2023. Loach is no stranger to politics, bringing his typical socialist perspective to this film. While he’s a talented filmmaker, he falls into the trappings of a one-sided documentary that isn’t entirely convincing because it refuses to present a counter to his argument.
The Spirit of ’45 tells the story of the radical social changes brought upon by the Labour government in post-war Britain. Combining interviews from the ' 50s and 2013, Loach analyses how the privatization of many government-run industries destroyed their relationship with the people. He gives a strong argument for the socialization of the industries in Britain, showing how the policies of Margaret Thatcher and Winston Churchill stalled growth.
As a Gen Z American, this documentary doesn’t fully work because I cannot connect to it. Most interviewees are generations older than I am and have no idea what the politics of America are. When Loach does present a parallel between Britain’s politics and America’s, it’s still a decade behind what political conversation has shaped in the states.
The fact that this was made in 2013 will be lost on many American viewers because the social issues that Loach brings up are remarkably prescient in our modern society. He touches on the collapse of our healthcare system and praises socialism, a viewpoint that would’ve been considered incredibly controversial a decade ago. Now, not so much. The power of documentary filmmaking works when both the far past (1950s) and past “present” (2013) give unique perspectives to issues we’re dealing with in the actual present (2023).
Ken Loach has absolutely no interest in exploring other sides of the economic decline of Britain. Throughout the documentary’s 94-minute runtime, he doesn’t include a single perspective from the other side, making this an incredibly self-indulgent film and cheapening the experience overall. It, if anything, feels like a propaganda documentary; while it’s well-produced, there’s no reason to be presented with only one view. Since only one side is being interviewed, many interviewees give the same information.
Viewers looking for a unique perspective will find a great documentary in The Spirit of ’45. While Loach is too one-sided in his approach to explaining why socialism is beneficial, his filmmaking skill shines through. Movies that challenge your beliefs are important to watch, and this documentary finds itself in a Catch-22. While it is suitable for challenging your ideas to be a better film, Loach should’ve challenged his own beliefs. It might be easy to write this off as an irrelevant film to today, but this could be a worthwhile watch to people when it releases in theaters again.
Spirit of ’45 releases in theaters starting March 17.