“The Spirit of ’45” is, atypically, a documentary from Ken Loach, whose tireless chronicles of Britain’s working class (“Kes,” “Sorry We Missed You”) have generally been dramas.
It is also not new. The documentary had its premiere at the Berlin International Film Festival in 2013 and opened in Britain shortly after that. Released for the first time in the United States, it is relevant in a perennial sense but somewhat dated. The people interviewed in this movie could not know that their despised Tories would still hold power today. (The 2016 Brexit vote — indeed, any mention of the European Union — is also conspicuous by its absence.)
The film’s central idea is that Britain had reached a rare moment of possibility after World War II and the general election of 1945, when the Labour leader Clement Attlee became prime minister with an avowedly socialist agenda. Loach charts the nationalization of Britain’s health service, transportation sectors and coal mines. Britons who remember the changes share stories of how those shifts and new plans for quality housing almost universally improved their lives (although there is mention of some missed opportunities with the mines). “The Spirit of ’45” then flashes forward to show how the conservative prime minister Margaret Thatcher and her successors rolled those policies back.
As in much of his recent fiction work (including the Palme d’Or-winning “I, Daniel Blake”), Loach largely ignores counterarguments. Even viewers sympathetic to his politics may roll their eyes at how infrequently the film acknowledges trade-offs and price tags, except when the costs relate to the inefficiencies of privatization. There is a powerful historical case to be made here, but it requires engaging with nuance, not merely expressing conviction.
The Spirit of ’45
Not rated. Running time: 1 hour 34 minutes. In theaters.