Dangerous in the best sense
TONY BENN: WILLAND TESTAMENT ★★★★ Directed by Skip Kite. Featuring Tony Benn. Club, IFI, Dublin, 90 mins
Despite a wonderfully elaborate set and quite a few special effects, Skip Kite’s film remains a lovely handmade artefact. A biographical portrait of the late Labour MP Tony Benn, this “will and testament” is just that: a man, in his 80s, making a visual scrapbook from his unfussy MDF kitchen.
Benn’s life offers an incredible sweep of history: the son of feminist theologian Margaret Wedgwood Benn and former secretary of state for India, Viscount Stansgate (as he briefly was), Benn had already met Gandhi, flown in Africa during the second World War and worked as a producer for the BBC by the time he renounced his title in 1963.
While others have been softened by office, ministerial posts only served to radicalise Benn, who realised that: “Democracy ought to be the system that changes things to meet the people’s needs. But it has been subtly transformed to change the people to meet the needs of the system.” As he moved further to the left, he became demonised as “the most dangerous man in Britain”.
Speaking to camera, he remains defiant and unrepentant: “Socialism is about trying to construct a society around production for need and not just for profit.”
There are some incredibly moving, intimate moments: Benn paid £10 to buy the bench on which he proposed to Caroline de Camp in 1949; he cries when he recalls her death from breast cancer in 2000. He talks us through Hiroshima, the Winter of Discontent, the miners’ strike and on into the Thatcherite Blair regime.
From the archives he ridicules the idea that the Soviets want to roll across Europe so that they might one day “deal with Ian Paisley”. He recalls how the IMF bullied Labour into cuts during the 1970s, leaving the party out in the cold just before profits from North Sea oil kicked in – profits that funded crowd-control throughout the benighted decade that followed.
More centrist folks may flinch or sneer, but even they will find cause to revel in the liveliness of Benn’s intellect. A privilege to watch.
Tony Benn: defiant and unrepentant