Film Review: Dennis Skinner: Nature of the Beast

By James Mcallister

Aristotle once said that “Man is a political animal”, and in British politics, few are as ferocious as Dennis Skinner. Dubbed the ‘Beast of Bolsover’, referring to the constituency that he has represented in Parliament since 1970, Skinner is a renowned socialist, trade unionist, and Labour politician; a man both loved and loathed by members of the House.

This absorbing documentary from first-time filmmaker Daniel Draper may not be a particularly comprehensive study of Skinner’s political ideology, but it is nonetheless an engaging and informative profile, which traces his rise as a political icon; beginning in the coal-mine pits of Derbyshire, and ending in the chambers of Westminster – the sight of an industrial chimney neatly fading into an image of Big Ben perfectly underscoring Skinner’s journey.

Draper peppers his film with charming, and often amusing testimonies from Skinner’s brothers, who tell of his early upbringing. However, the bulk of the story is recounted by the man himself, who reminisces, with a wry smile and a humble tone, on memories of standing on the frontlines and fighting for the rights of miners during the strikes of the mid-80s, of avidly seeking to avoid the right-wing media on his trips to Westminster, and – perhaps most entertainingly – of taking on Enoch Powell in a battle to stop the ban of stem cell research; a “disruptive but constructive” politician, as his brothers declare.

Yet despite what the title suggests, we are never truly offered a deeper insight into Skinner’s beliefs, which strikes one as something of a missed opportunity given how drastically the landscape has changed during the course of his lifetime. By the end, we are left with a good understanding of Dennis Skinner’s life, but unfortunately the beast inside him that we so often see unleashed during PMQs, still remains something of a mystery.

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