When Tony Benn died two months ago I was told by many of his greatness. His death brought with it not only mourning for a great man but a grieving for the politics that Britain once had. Too young to remember politics before Blair’s new labour, I am somewhat ignorant as to the way Britain was once run. Tony Benn: Will and Testament will be emotional and reminiscent for fans of Benn’s work and life but for someone who is unaware of his political life, it was an insightful and truly moving experience. The best British documentary of recent years is David and Jacqui Morris’ McCullin; a film that shares many similarities with Tony Benn: Will and Testament. Both use only their subject as a narrator. There is no off-screen voice asking questions or guiding the audience. Instead, both films allow their subject to tell their own story; a powerful tool that too few documentaries turn to. Both films begin with an insight into the ethical and moral stand point of the individual being studied, before moving through their life and experiences chronologically. Both Don McCullin and Tony Benn are explored through their professions as well as their personal lives. Tony Benn: A Will and Testament is educational as well as philosophical. Using a combination of set pieces, archive footage and interviews with Benn himself, director Skip Kite creates a tapestry of Benn as a loving husband, a powerful politician, an aggressive human rights activist and a truly moral being.
Moving through British political history as well as his own political activities, Benn is able to provide a commentary on what he believes were the high and low points in this country’s recent developments and conflicts. Benn is a charismatic presence, remaining intuitive and well informed even into his elderly years. The film might appear a little biased towards socialism, which of course it was always going to be. Ken Loach’s The Spirit of ’45 suffered from its own strong opinions that seemed to wallop you over the head but Tony Benn: Will and Testament remains opinionated but not overly invasive. I was enthralled from beginning to end, listening to everything Benn had to say, providing a scope for someone like me who can only experience the fifties to the nineties second hand. The film was shot only months before his death, something Benn had clearly come to personal terms with. Whether or not you agree with Benn on certain stand points is irrelevant. He admits his own errors and doesn’t try to force any opinion on you. This is an emotional and detailed cinematic memoir; something to cherish in Benn’s absence. The film, and its subject, has a wonderful spirit; a spirit that seems blatantly absent from modern politics.
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