Home > Uncategorized > Mandelson’s dark arts loom over an even darker documentary

Mandelson’s dark arts loom over an even darker documentary

Mandelson with his trousers down or was it intentional indecent exposure?

Mandelson with his trousers down or was it intentional indecent exposure?

Suggestion is a potent art-form for documentary film makers, as much as it is for politicians.

The combination of well paced and considered development and narration over well edited scenes can mix to form a potently suggestible concoction.

But Tuesday night’s Peter Mandelson: The real PM? was entirely void of a narrator.  Instead, well timed captions faded in and out of the proceedings with an air of whispered authority.  This lack of narration was by no means ineffective – the film made more sinister and ironically subtle suggestions than Mandelson’s ministerial mobile phone outbox – but it also allowed our protagonist to creep just a touch too far into the role of storyteller.

The way in which the documentary’s dark art of suggestion mirrored Mandelson’s own tenure as Minister for Darkness was a captivating and eerie spectacle.

Indeed, there were lashings of eeriness.  We first joined our villain in the back of a leather clad limousine while eerily sustained strings loomed overhead. Eerie captions that used words like “nemesis”, “historic”, “enemies” and “victory” faded in and out, an eerie sideways sneer from our protagonist in full Lords regalia (That sneer, reminiscent of a chameleon enjoying the colour of its own skin rather too much)… the effect was more reminiscent of the Lord of the Rings trilogy than a BBC 4 political documentary.

The absence in narration lent a peculiar impression of dark forces behind the scenes, and whilst I do not doubt the integrity of Rothschild’s reporting it almost seems as if Mandelson had a hand in the proceedings.   Such candid access surely did not come without some sway from the prince.  The Guardian’s Sam Wollaston’s has already asked why Rothschild gave Mandelson such an easy ride.

But this implied involvement is not necessarily to the detriment of the proceedings.  Mandelson is now in the business of promoting himself as a villain, and the devil’s shoes seem to fit him rather too comfortably.  Would he prefer to be called a mummy’s boy or the Prince of Darkness? “Oh my god, Prince of Darkness definitely!” is the all too readily offered response.  Indeed, it has been reported that Mandleson’s reaction to the documentary has been surprisingly positive.

But there is more than one shade of the political chameleon that is offered up.  The eerie sustained strings are often interrupted by a jazzy, walking bass, offbeat finger click number that introduces the smooth, young, moustachioed cat-burglar Mandelson.  This young Mandelson, snooping and sneering behind the scenes, talks of plans to use television as “a tool” and “a servant”, and there was certainly a hint of this in Rothschild’s supposedly fly on the wall documentary.

But the film was not without its candid exposure.  One moment saw Mandelson caught with his trousers down mid-wardrobe adjustment into black-tie, Mansion house Mandelson.  It is a credit to the documentary’s candidness that this scene does not register as indecent exposure.  Instead, it seems like just another metaphor that depicts Mandelson’s very eager attitude towards exposure in the documentary.

The last Mandelson that is presented is the tired and frail Mandelson.  He’s pictured cat napping in arm chairs and taxis and the music turns to brooding guitar arpeggios.  The potent symbol of Mandelson slicing his pre-election fruit cake is surely the lasting metaphor – suddenly Mandelson has the air of a reflective mourner.  I half expected a shot of him peering longingly at a New Labour rose, twisting it in his hands and delicately pruning off its petals one by one whilst lamenting on “Tony” and the tears of his political past.

The camera also focused rather too intently on Mandelson’s hand gestures when he was handling delicate situations by telephone, as if conducting an imaginary orchestra of nuanced half-truths and illusory word play in his own head.  In fact, I found the best way to avoid the impact of the ghastly control Mandelson seemed to impose was to pretend that he was in fact in the grip of a shutter-island style psychotic self-delusion that he was prime minister and those around him humoured his fits of fancy to stop him going AWOL.  Now there’s a very “dark” comedy indeed.

But the truth is rather more troubling.  Mandelson’s departing quip summed up the proceedings “I’m a professional politician, I’m not some sort of manikin!”  Perhaps the only departing consolation is that, from now on, Mandelson will be confined to the role of pantomime villain rather than political demon.  But then again, he’s been written off before… Who’s to say Ed Miliband won’t be hearing cries of “He’s behind you!” before the next election?

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