Dennis Skinner: Nature of the Beast

 

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A documentary about Dennis Skinner to enthuse his admirers.

 

Dennis Skinner Nature of the Beast

 

Back in 2014 we were given a documentary about one of Britain's notable Labour MPs in Tony Benn: Will and Testament. Now comes another one in Daniel Draper’s film about that staunch Socialist Dennis Skinner who in his eighties is still serving as MP for Bolsover. Several times during this piece we hear comments from his four brothers and others contribute their impressions too, but even so this is largely Dennis Skinner’s story in his own words.

 

Skinner is certainly a fluent speaker and he comes across as a man of total integrity standing by the beliefs that were inbred in him from an early age. The son of a miner and born in Clay Cross in Derbyshire in 1932, he talks of his working class background, his days as a miner, his work as a local councillor and, from 1970, his contributions in the House of Commons. His deep concern over the gap between rich and poor may strike what is a particularly topical note today, but in general the way in which he looks back on his career makes the film a manifesto for Socialism rather than anything more individual.

 

Indeed, this is a film that, despite emphasising Skinner’s working class roots, offers precious little about his personal life. You do learn odd details, such as the fact that he remains a fan of Woody Allen including some of his recent work and that he has a propensity even now to burst into song as he did in his youth (he actually offers two songs here, the second being the more justified since it proves to be attached to a poignant anecdote about his mother). But there's nothing about his marriage which would end in divorce or about his children. The fact that he is fond of the outdoors encourages shots of woodland and blooms, but these are rather oddly inserted as interludes accompanied somewhat bizarrely by period music from the likes of Ambrose and his Orchestra.

 

There are, of course, some good tales here including one in which Skinner tells how he defeated Enoch Powell by filibustering and another about the verbal fracas in parliament with Andrew Faulds which led to Skinner becoming known as the Beast of Bolsover. But towards the end one finds less sense of shape to the film (there’s a look back to Attlee’s victory in 1945 and a recollection of seeing the sea for the first time at the age of seventeen, both telling enough but why at this stage in the film?). What it all adds up to is a work that will mean most to those who already share Skinner’s views. It encourages respect for the man but, ironically, the quote from Aristotle that opens the film ("Man is a political animal") hints at the film’s limitation. The film’s Skinner is all political animal and not much else besides.             

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

  

Featuring  Dennis Skinner. 

 

Dir Daniel Draper, Pro Christie Allanson and Daniel Draper, Screenplay Daniel Draper, Ph Allan Melia, Ed Christie Allanson, Music Patrick Dineen.

 

Shut Out The Light-Shut Out The Light.
106 mins. UK. 2017. Rel: 8 September 2017. Cert. PG.