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Ken Loach, The Spirit of '45

Ken Loach talks to Andreas Wiseman about his new documentary The Spirit of ‘45.

Ken Loach’s new documentary The Spirit of ‘45, his first since 1998, charts the gradual privatisation of the UK’s welfare state.

But according to Loach, the film, whose story is told through personal testimony and archive footage, couldn’t have come at a more pertinent time for the whole of Europe:

“I think it’s very important to remember that there was a time when we owned a lot of the economy,” Loach told Screen, referring to the post-war creation of the welfare state.

“We owned the utilities, transport system, mines and we invested heavily in housing for everyone - that was an enormous achievement for our country which was on its knees after the war. The period showed that people can and want to work together, not to be in competition with each other. Today, people are forced to privatize services. If you’re in the EU you can’t plan your economy and that’s a reason to challenge it.”

The film is full of moving and impassioned testimonies. One dock worker expresses a familiar sentiment when he claims today’s Labour Party “in no way can be called a working class organisation as it has been hijacked by the middle class:”

“Today’s Labour Party has become a party of managers and capital. It’s not only that it should be a party where working class people are plainly there and you can tell that by who they are, it should also understand the interests of working class people, which is slightly different thing,” said Loach.

The director believes Spirit benefitted from being told as a documentary:

“I think you could definitely explore this in fiction, but there’s a kind of irrefutable quality about the documentary. You can always challenge the editing and the analysis, but the interviewees were there, that is what they said.”

Indeed, the research-led nature of the film proved a welcome change of pace for the director:

“For senior citizens making an archive documentary is the perfect way to work” he laughed. “Your alarm doesn’t have to go off at 5 or 6 o’clock and you interview and talk to people in the middle of the day when you’ve had time to have coffee. The whole time scale is very civilized.”

That said, Loach intends to turn back to feature drama this year:

“Paul [Laverty] has written a script. I hope we will shoot something in the autumn, all being well.”

The Spirit of ‘45 screens in Berlinale Special this evening [Feb 11]. Wild Bunch handles international sales. 

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