More like a family scrapbook than a documentary, Tony Benn: Will and Testament is a carefully curated film which illustrates the life and times of one of the most contentious figures on the late 20th century.
Benn who died in March this year approved the final cut and what has been selected presents us with footage that ensures the unerring convictions of the pipe-smoking MP will not be forgotten.
He wanted to be remembered for having “encouraged us” and this film written, directed and produced by Skip Kite is clearly partly intended as a rabble-rousing call to arms. “You have to fight or you lose,” says Benn emphasising that the one question you have to ask is always “is it right or is it wrong?”
The moving and extremely personal memoir covers key moments in the great orator’s life from his childhood and time in the Royal Air Force, to his marriage and family life, the battle he had to stay out of the House of Lords, the campaign for nuclear disarmament and the Miners’ Strike.
For the privileged audience in Chesterfield’s Winding Wheel who had tickets to see the film before it goes on general releases on October 3 it was the footage of the strike that resonated most. While some tears were shed at the footage others applauded his passion for the cause.
Benn arrived in the town as MP on the eve of the strike as a result of a 1984 by-election and battled hard for his constituents.
In the film the aging campaigner certainly doesn’t hold back on his views of Margaret Thatcher’s policies or indeed his contempt for Tony Blair and the one-time Labour leader’s disregard for the principle of common ownership, which Benn himself held dear.
The charismatic politician was, as the film’s strapline declares, loved, hated but always respected and there is much reference to his vilification in the media in the 80s.
The filming of many scenes takes place in a purpose built set recreating a cosy living room where he sits and talks surrounded by giant newspapers with headlines screaming insults.
This set and the decision to film other scenes in a sparse looking kitchen at Benn’s family home were at odds with the quality of the fascinating content.
In the Q&A after the film we learnt that they had already moved out of the home, which begs the question “Why use it then?”.
That said this is a magnetic film about an incredible man told in his own words just the way he would have liked it. No one will leave the cinema without feeling empowered to stand up and be counted in the fight against injustice.
You can watch a trailer of the film here. Make sure you search out the full length film at a cinema near you soon.