Nature of the Beast Review
Labour stalwart Dennis Skinner isn’t nicknamed the ‘Beast of Bolsover’ without good reason. His 47 years as MP for Bolsover has seen him battle with some of the biggest names in British politics, standing off against everyone from Ted Heath, Thatcher, Blair and Cameron. The 85-year-old firebrand is still going strong, turning up to Parliament every day to represent his local constituency, as he has done since he first walked into Parliament five decades ago. A documentary about the man seems somewhat overdue and thankfully director Daniel Draper convinced Skinner to lead the way in telling the story of his own career.
Draper’s approach sticks to a traditional documentary format, relying heavily on Skinner to recall his early childhood pre and post-World War II, before heading down to work in the mines. He soon discovered life in the pit wasn’t as romantic as he imagined it to be but it offered a better wage than many other options in the region. His quick thinking and sharp tongue saw him rise to become a Union rep, before being approached to stand for the local council. In hindsight, his progression towards Parliament seems like the most natural thing in the world and the passionate Socialist still talks with same vigour as he ever has.
Cutting between archived videos and images, the film details Skinner’s battle for trade union workers rights and his tireless campaigning during the infamous Miner’s strike. We hear from his four surviving brothers, some of whom were once involved with the local council, who confirm the hard-working and down-to-earth image of Skinner. His cutting humour that has seen him removed from the Commons and become a regular heckler of the Queen also get their moments. And if you’re a BBC reporter, you also don’t want to misrepresent what he says.
While Draper does show another side to the man away from his dogged commitment to politics – Skinner waxes lyrical about his love for parks, flowers and greenery – there seems little rhyme or reason behind how Draper puts the pieces together. One minute Skinner is reminiscing over the flowerbeds at St James’ Park in Westminster, the next we are listening to a musician singing a song about the man, or walking through the halls of Parliament alongside Skinner. Outside of Skinner’s engaging charisma, there is very little to pull this out of a generic profile of a man who is deserving of a film that presents his achievements in a greater light. Despite its title, Nature of the Beast struggles to get close enough to what really makes this antithesis of a career politician truly tick.