Moira+I mixed cinema culture and politics yesterday afternoon, along with our very good friends Gareth+Alan, at the Watershed (again, yes I know…) to see “Will and Testament” – a documentary of intimate interviews with Tony Benn, as part of the Bristol Festival of Ideas. Benn was the much-loved Labour MP for Bristol South East for more than 30 years. I’ve always been an admirer of Tony Benn and, as I’ve got older (and wiser!), my admiration for him has only increased. Sadly, all too often, it seems that it’s only when politicians are no longer seen as influential rivals or opponents that people really start to listen. For me, this is true for people from a wide spectrum of political backgrounds – even the likes of Michael Heseltine and Michael Portillo, for example!This is an intimate and deeply personal film about Benn – frequently involving the powerful themes in his life… his hopes and fears, his optimism and dreams, his wife and family. I particularly liked the piece in the film when Harold Wilson commented that he reckoned Tony Benn had “immatured with age”! We all know that Benn was a bit of a romantic at heart (and there’s definitely nothing wrong in that!) and, often, he’s also been a bit of a maverick (and difficult to have on your “team” perhaps?). But this is a brilliant film and one that I vow to watch at least once every five years for the rest of my life – a reminder to us all of the hope and determination required to fight for the things we believe in. Yes, this rebel eventually became a “national treasure”… but, significantly, in this film he also emerges with charm and persuasiveness as well as consistency, dignity and good humour (and very many of his views have been vindicated over the course of time). He was a very good, decent and inspiring man.
In the film, Benn says that he would be very pleased if his epitaph read: “He encouraged us”… and I think that’s absolutely right. He has certainly encouraged me. What would the Labour Party give today for someone with Benn’s integrity and charisma?