It is, perhaps, surprising that more films about the Spanish Civil War haven't been made. The Spanish landscape, the sheer ruthlessness of any civil war, and the perceived Spanish emotions all combine to make what would appear to be an attractive proposition for a film-maker. The names of Picasso and Lorca will forever have an association with the war, yet where are the artists representing cinema? All the more surprising then that it should have been British director Ken Loach who took up the cudgels. Loach is probably best known for his gritty portrayals of the British working class (and under-class), something that has, perhaps, made him more approachable outside his own country.
In tackling the Spanish Civil War any writer is faced with the overwhelming complexities that underlie the events. The regionalism (think only of the Catalan and Basque regions, let alone Galicia and Andalusia), the monarchy, the Catholic Church, landowners, trade unions, anarchists plus the leaderships of the Nationalist and Republican movements all combined to create a very tangled web. Add to that outside involvement, principally from Mussolini and Stalin, the vacillation of Britain and France and, of course, the omnipresence of Hitler, and anyone might wonder where to start.
Loach and Allen take their approach through the eyes of an unemployed Liverpudlian, David Carr (admirably played by Ian Hart) who, as a card-carrying member of the Communist Party, answers the call to fight for the Republic. We follow his exploits through a number of episodes, involving battles, falling in love, injury and, ultimately, a degree of disillusion as the reality of Stalin's views eventually come to dominate, and eventually destroy, his cause. The film is supremely well-made, highlighting the horrors, the camaraderie, and the political divisions. In particular, the debate amongst the militia about collectivisation after they have taken a small town takes no sides, but simply allows a number of valid arguments to be exposed within the context of the shifting sands of the war.
There is still ample material for the industry to go on to make more films on this important period in history. But Loach has set the benchmark.
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