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Benn’s own story as a champion of radical change

Last Will And Testament

Edinburgh International Film Festival 

5/5

WILL And Testament, a new documentary on Tony Benn’s life, got an emotional welcome from audiences at the Edinburgh International Film Festival (EIFF) last weekend. 

Told in his own words, the film combines archive TV footage with photographs from the Benn family archive and allows Benn to tell his own story. 

A reflective film, it conveys his passion for change and justice, his love for his family and his partnership with his wife Caroline. He talks honestly of his pain and loss when she died but also of the impact of the death of his brother Michael, shot down during the second world war. 

Benn’s voice fills the cinema, transporting many back to the streets filled with millions marching against the war in Iraq, campaigning against nuclear weapons and standing by the mining communities throughout 1984-85. 

Benn’s own study, where diaries were dictated, correspondence answered and interviews conducted, is recreated. Yet it reveals only a fraction of the archives amassed throughout his life as he reflects on the importance of accountability, honesty and accepting responsibility for making mistakes. He illustrates this by charting how his own views on nuclear power changed, concluding that it must be opposed.

In a speech calling for “common ownership to advance the nation’s interests,” the bottle of North Sea oil on his desk is a reminder that in 1975 an oil fund was set up, only to be abolished and passed on to private interests by Margaret Thatcher in 1979. 

In contrast, there’s some beautiful footage of the Durham miners’ gala as the brass bands play in Durham cathedral and Benn speaks of the immense pride he felt when his own image was added to one of their banners. That banner was in London in March this year  as his funeral brought Parliament Square to a standstill.

We lived our own experiences and struggles during the film with tears, laughter and song and, as Roy Bailey played us out with Bread and Roses, we may have been reflecting on the past but there was a sense of renewed energy and responsibility to speak up for what is right. 

Will And Testament won the audience award at the Edinburgh International Film Festival, a tribute not only to its producers Praslin Pictures and all involved in the film but also, of course, to Benn himself. 

It’s undoubtedly a film that’s well worth seeing and it will be on a limited run later this summer before going on wider release in the autumn. 

Ann Henderson

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