Daniel Draper (director)
Shut Out The Light (studio)
08 September 2017 (released)
02 September 2017
This no-frills documentary seeks to look at what lies behind Dennis Skinner’s passion and determination. An emotion and drive that has served him, fair and foul, for over 50 years.
Born into a large family in a mining village and poverty, the film traces his early activities as a miner, as a Clay Cross councillor, through to his election to the House of Commons to the present, when he puts a mischievous Emily Maitlis to rights about being offered a job by Jeremy Corbyn.
There’s a lot a ground to cover, which by and large it does, though concentrating on his constituency, his family and Parliament. As such some issues are given short shrift, such as the internal party politics that he says stopped him appearing on the BBC’s Question Time.
The early days of his union work are key as we see his principles develop. The vintage footage is good, interspersed with shoots of the countryside, he clearly loves. Also mixed in are interviews with constituents from his Bolsover constituency, which reveal a very popular man of integrity and commitment.
It’s when he gets to the Commons that the film takes a more familiar trail. There are the barbed comments - David Cameron = Dodgy Dave - and the well documented bad-boy behaviour. But it also reveals what a brilliant tactician he is thanks to understanding the rules of the Commons inside and out.
There’s the time he knobbed Enoch Powell’s attempt to get stem cell researched banned by moving a byelection writ thus enabling MPs to talk it out. More playfully he noted the few seconds between Black Rod summoning the Commons to the Lords for the Queen’s Speech and the microphones being switched off as an opportunity to make a comment.
Director Daniel Draper appears to have been given good access so there’s also plenty of footage of Dennis Skinner with his brothers, both interviews and of them walking. Skinner recounting him singing with his mother in a residential home - at the time she was suffering from dementia - is very touching.
There are some who will see this a hagiography. That’s possibly an accusation that could be laid at it, though Skinner’s flaws are there, and for the viewer to pick up. However, what this does is cast a little more light on a man who to many is little more than a finger pointing grouch, sitting in the same seat (and we get an insight into that) in the Commons.