Tony Benn: Will and Testament
A one-sided and unsatisfyingly presented doc that nontheless presents a neat, warm summary of Benn's long and eventful career
A documentary expressly timed to mark the death of a figure revered by the filmmakers is hardly likely to achieve impartiality – not that this film aims for it. If it relies too much on its subject’s own modest assessments of his own legacy to be called hagiography, it certainly doesn’t present much in the way of questioning or opposing voices. Indeed, it doesn’t even call on his allies to talk about him; though historical interviews and encounters are used, new footage features him alone. This does give the film a slightly thin feel; but there are worse voices to hear uninterrupted than that of Benn, and the film provides a neat, warm summary of his long and eventful career, as well as a useful account of the repositioning of the Labour party over the same time.
The form in which all of this is presented is not always satisfying; Benn looks awkward when called upon to talk about his life directly to camera, and stranding him solo on a dark set dressed with items from his life feels an oddly mournful way to represent a life lived actively and passionately to its close. And there’s a bit of cartoonish over-simplification in the use of archive footage and movie clips (yuppies pouring champagne BAD; people on demos GOOD), which points to the dated influence of Michael Moore, and doesn’t feel appropriate to a depiction of a man so earnest and immune to gimmickry that he engaged with the utmost sincerity with Ali G. But the photographs and footage from Benn’s past are treasurable – and however you respond to his specific political creed, the man’s dignity, passion and sheer intelligence would be a joy to behold if they didn’t make you feel so disconsolate about the current lot.
Reviewed at Edinburgh International Film Festival 2014.