Tony Benn: Will and Testament

Picturehouse, Liverpool
3rd October 2014

Reviewed by Steve Lamb

At the outset, I should point out that I share many of Tony Benn’s political beliefs so a totally objective review is impossible. I respected the man greatly but did not know an awful lot about his life; this film was therefore of great interest.

It certainly fills in many gaps and viewers who don’t want to commit to reading a full biography would be well served by watching this. Despite the film never having been intended as a critical examination of Tony Benn (the right wing press did a good enough job of that throughout his career), it is very one sided and sentimental with a cloying piano soundtrack at odds with his sharp tongue and passionate ideals.

These beliefs and their roots are, however, well discussed, and often induced strong feelings in the audience (applause, sighs, ironic laughter etc) which almost made this viewing an interactive experience.

Footage of Benn the activist in his prime reminds us what we are missing in this age of bland, centrist, and media-savvy political puppets. What I wasn’t expecting though (and what I’m sure director Skip Kite didn’t intend), was a feeling of resignation and tragedy.

It could possibly have been my frame of mind but the fact that despite Benn’s efforts, we have still been inflicted with Thatcher’s bastard offspring Blair and Cameron, and a pro-corporate global agenda did leave a bittersweet taste that was hard to shake.

At many points, Benn was made to look like a man of the past with archaic yet utopian ideas rather than the inspiring and fiery contemporary elder statesman who had left Parliament “to devote more time to politics”.

There were lighter moments, including a brilliant joke about peers and dentists which I won’t spoil here.

Also, an uplift at the end focused on humanity empowering itself through social media which has lit the spark for international protest movements. The problem is that the film needed more of this, and what could have been a rallying call just seemed rather sad in parts.

In short, this may be a missed opportunity in some respects but it is still a respectful and humane tribute to a much missed icon.

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