This doc about the much-loved playwright Alan Bennett is endearing, if a little thin. If you’re already familiar with Bennett’s life and work – and the two have often intertwined, most recently with the film ‘The Lady in the Van’ – the film offers few insights. It’s been made to accompany the publication of the Leeds-born 82-year-old’s third volume of diaries, ‘Keeping On Keeping On’, and is built around Bennett reading extracts from the book at his kitchen table. We also see him discussing the diaries with his editor, delivering extracts for publication to the London Review of Books and recording an episode of ‘Private Passions’ for BBC Radio 3.
Although it properly belongs in a quiet slot on BBC Four, the film will be screened in cinemas for one night only on Wednesday November 16, followed by a live Q&A with Bennett streamed from Primrose Hill Community Library, which he helped to set up in 2012 following Camden council cuts. Now under threat from developers, he mentions it in the film, railing gently against the direction of our politics and culture – his forthright old-school socialism is pleasingly at odds with his cosy reputation.
Elsewhere in the film, we visit Bennett’s second home in rural Yorkshire, follow him to New York to pick up an award and catch glimpses of his partner, Rupert Thomas (who doesn’t speak on camera). The film’s access is good, and Bennett is unfailingly good company, but it doesn’t do much prodding and it seems wary of stealing thunder from the diaries. If books, like DVDs, came with extras, this is what they’d look like.