Ken Loach's rousing but simplistic documentary heralds political triumphs of yesteryear.
For a documentary celebrating innovation, radical thinking and audacity in the face of slender odds, Ken Loach’s tubthumping but simplistic call for a return to post-war values rejects complex discourse at every tear-flecked turn.
Employing emotive newsreel footage to make its case for the visionary political gambits undertaken by the 1945 Clement Atlee Labour government and its pointedly socialist agenda, Loach tells a simple tale of how a verdant island utopia, apparently free from injustice, inequality and woe, was eventually pulverised to dust by a buck-toothed harridan (Thatcher, natch).
It’s not that Loach’s polemical aims aren’t laudable, it’s more that he delivers an argument in which it's very easy to pick holes. It takes as read that the culture of British manual labour was and is empowering and necessary and that the closure of the coal mines and the gradual privatisation of essential infrastructure was solely an act of political aggression intended to smite the dignity of the working man. Which may all be true, but these ideas are all channelled into Loach’s hectoring, clammy romanticisation of the flat-capped (predominantly Northern and mainly male) proletariat.
The film says that rich people victimise the poor and capitalism is completely divorced from any notion of humanism. Loach sees the NHS as a haven for the disenfranchised, not as a great leveller of the people. His screed always returns to the crutch of nostalgia and the supposed need to preserve William Beveridge’s blueprint for the Welfare State rather than consider how elements therein might not apply to the challenges of contemporary society.
Dissenting voices are a no-show, yet the talking heads Loach does include in the film paint a vivid and moving picture of times past and help us understand the vital rebuilding and restructuring initiated by the 1945 government.
Formally, the film is militantly nuts and bolts, doing little more than sensibly and flatly ordering material. Its use of footage showing elated VE Day celebrations as a mark that 1945 was a time of unquestioned contentment, too, is indicative of its recourse to easy manipulation.
It’s a film which operates reasonably as a call to occupy the streets, gob on a yuppie and wave a placard in the air. And it’s very easy to get swept up in the political righteousness if your politics are that way inclined. But will it convert any naysayers? Probably not.
Ken Loach waves a flag for the NHS. And who better to undertake that task?
Hmm. Exactly the film you’d expect to see, and not in a good way.
The term is, preaching to the choir.