Monday, 16 March 2015

Tony Benn: Will & Testament.

Dumfries TUC joined with the Robert Burns Centre Film Theatre to screen Tony Benn: Will & Testament (2014) to mark the first anniversary of the great mans death on Saturday 14th March 2015. They broke the mould when this man was born, but we need his kind more today as we have ever done. Benn was the exception that broke every rule. He managed to inspire, inform, empower and entertain all in one go. Moreover, he refused to sink into the conveniently shallow spaces that politics has often found itself dragged into.[1] I can’t help wonder what he would of made of todays Labour Party, who are still content to head done the path that Tony Blair mapped out. As one commentator has remarked Tony Benn would have insisted that the Labour’s task should be to abolish impoverishment not to manage it! He also passionately believed in the power of the people to change things but I’m not sure if any amount of elections will accomplish that? My original blog of the documentary’s World Premier follows.

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Tony Benn

This wonderfully moving, and at times emotional, portrait of one of the Britain’s greatest politicians will be released in cinemas on the 3rd October 2014. I would suggest that anyone with a heart who wants to know the truth about politics in the post war period and who appreciated Ken Loach’s recent documentary The Spirit of 45 (2012) must see this excellent film. Tony Benn: Will & Testament (2014) had its World Premiere at the Filmhouse in Edinburgh on Friday 27th June in front of very large appreciative audience which included many of the people involved in the making of this documentary.
The politician in fall swing. 
For the ignorant amongst you Tony Benn was a Member of the British Parliament representing the country and the Labour Party for 47 years from 1950 until 2001 when he retired as an MP ‘in order to spend more time on politics’. During that period he served as Postmaster General, overseeing the opening of the post office tower, Minister of Technology and later as Secretary of State for Industry before being made Secretary of State for Energy. It was his fight to renounce his hereditary peerage, which would have prevented him from continuing as an MP, that succeeded in getting the Peerage Act 1963 put on the statute book, something that won him a great deal of public support. But his support of the working class and his radical socialist stance won him as many enemies as friends including the right wing media that portrayed him as a hate figure. After leaving Parliament he continued to lend his support to many worthy causes including the Stop the War Coalition and even appearing at Glastonbury in 2002. It was Benn who in 2005 warned of the treat from powerful institution like the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank well before the banking collapse in 2008.
Supporting the miners. 
The documentary, a meaningful labour of love, covered all these points and more including his unwavering support for the working class, his immense displeasure with the politics of the Thatcher government, which included him backing the greatest of all the working class battles with the rich and powerful – the 1984/85 miners strike. It also presents his own personal reflections on his childhood, his youth and his marriage to Caroline who was the love of his life for over 50 years, until she passed away in 2000. The interviews with Tony Benn are fascinating describing a man of passionate conviction who has dedicated his life to others. We get to hear some of his pearls of wisdom that still resonate to this day,  the only question worth asking – is it right or wrong?” “Say what you mean and mean what you say” It’s a pity that more politicians today do not take his advice? But my favourite is that “we immature with age” I can vouch for that!
A Benn groupie. 
The discussion after the screening was hosted by Ruth Winstone, Benn’s long time friend, colleague and Editor of his published diaries, and also featured Cinematographer Michael Miles, Editor Liza Ryan-Carter and Composer Michel Duvoisin.  I personally had the privilege of sitting next to the films Executive Producer Jaqueline Jean-Louis.

Tony Benn, a brave and dedicated man, died on the 14th March 2014 just after the completion of this very personnel film and is still inspiring and encouraging us today  - RIP.  

[1] Morning Star Alan Simpson 14th March 2015.

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