Alan Bennett’s Diaries LIVE (film review) ★★★★☆

ALAN BENNETT’S DIARIES LIVE was broadcast in cinemas across the UK on 16/11/2016, followed by a live Q&A with the writer at his local library in Primrose Hill.

This 70-minute documentary takes a candid look into the life and mind of Alan Bennett, following him to New York, where he shot to fame in Beyond the Fringe in the early 1960s, as he goes to accept an award at the New York public library; to Shepherd’s Bush to record an episode of Private Passions for Radio 3, where he opens up about the importance of music in his life from an early age; to his local community library in Primrose Hill, which he despairs, is undervalued by those in higher power; and to Armley in Leeds, the village in Yorkshire which he calls home. Throughout the film, Alan Bennett reads extracts from his diaries, mostly from the past decade; and we follow him as he takes enormous piles of tattered sheets of paper to be compiled into his next volume of diaries. He writes on whatever sheet of paper he can find, and always has – even when writing his plays. It is an intimate encounter with the writer, filmed over the course of a year, and an endearing look at the writer’s public and personal life, including a look at Bennett’s civil partnership to his long-term partner, Rupert. Alan Bennett comes across as bemused by his own popularity and comfortingly, he is still as angry and as irreverent about life in his 80s as he was in his 20s. This documentary is a wonderful insight into one of Britain’s true national treasures.

Here is one of my favourite extracts from his new collection of diaries, ‘Keeping on Keeping on’ [published by Faber & Faber]:

4 February, 2008:

More senior moments. I can’t find my pullover and don’t like the one I’m wearing because it has several moth holes. “I had another pullover,” I say to R. “I was wearing it this morning.”
“You still are. You’ve put the other one on top of it.”
Bike over to Gloucester Crescent and leave the bike there while I walk round to M&S. People often smile at me, but this afternoon nearly everyone smiles. It’s only when I come back to Parkway to have my hair cut that I realise I’m still wearing my crash helmet.”


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