Dan­ger­ous in the best sense

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - FILM REVIEWS - TARA BRADY

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

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