Peter Mandelson drifts around like a bespectacled apparition, as sinister when licking yoghurt from his tie as his is when berating the then Shadow Chancellor George Osborne after the first televised leaders’ debate during the 2010 election campaign. Mandelson: The Real PM? is a documentary which attempts to expose the man behind the death mask. It is an often compelling, entirely partisan piece of work which charts almost 10 months in the life of arguably the most powerful man in British politics at the time, and while its motives are blatant and its aims ambitious and unachieved, it is essential viewing for anyone who has an interest in the mechanisms of power which govern our lives.
The film delves briefly into Mandelson’s backstory, exploring his twin dismissals from government, his rivalry with Gordon Brown, his return to the thick of it and his management of the Labour campaign during the general elections last year. But all of this is ultimately peripheral to what is essentially a close study of an odd, ambitious man, his exterior mildness hiding an eloquent cruelty of wit within. Mandelson is shown to relish attacking rivals with barbed phrases delivered flippantly. He constantly belittles Osborne, Cameron and Brown both in public forums backed up by braying cronies and in the relative intimacy of the interviewee’s chair. He is shown to be almost immune to exhaustion, quietly vain and particular about his appearance and also a formidable multitasker. He is also portrayed as being reliant on human contact and is happy to admit that he cannot imagine slowing the pace of his working life or ever stepping out of the spotlight.
The ominous keys and strings which fill the film’s sound track are a little ham-fisted, but filmmaker Hannah Rothschild does a good job of mingling news clips, talking heads, straight up interviews and fly-on-the-wall sessions to give a comprehensive look at Mandelson’s world. The extra features on the DVD amount to a few extended interview clips in which he opines about what it takes to be a politician, what he thinks of journalists and where the Tories can shove it. If you can get over how much he looks like the Demon Headmaster then Mandelson: The Real PM? is worth catching. Particularly as BBC4, the channel upon which it originally aired, looks set to get the chop and it might never see the light of day on TV again.
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