Hating Peter Tatchell *****
Updated: Jun 9, 2021
Director: Christopher Amos
Outspoken and controversial campaigner Peter Tatchell has been a mainstay in the fight for LGBT+ Rights for decades. Nowadays he is considered one of the most effective and consistent voices for Queer people, but this hasn’t always been the case. In this documentary, which is a stunning portrait of the man behind the headlines, Oscar-nominated actor and long-standing LGBT+ activist Sir Ian McKellan interviews Tatchell, who is able to relate his life in his own words. With contributions from other leading activists, actor Stephen Fry and even ex-Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey, this is the definitive retrospective of an illustrious career that is still far from over.
Tatchell is known for his remarkable ability for creating media furore. Surrounding himself with tipped-off journalists, they create a protective shield around him and document the response from often hostile authorities. As a result, reams of archive footage exists, from his rise to notoriety in the ill-fated Bermondsey by-election, right until his protests against Putin, Mugabe and the Syrian Human Rights abuses.
We learn much about his early days in Australia, in which his staunchly Christian mother married a physically abusive zealot. From the earliest days of the rejection he received from them, it is clear that they ignited a fire in him to fight injustice wherever he saw it. Protesting against the Vietnam War meant that he had to leave Australia, finding his new cause in the Gay Liberation Front within days of his arrival in London. In the years that followed, he became renowned for his protests during the AIDS Crisis and his controversial outing of gay bishops. And it’s in depicting his multiple clashes with the Church of England that this film hits upon a goldmine.
George Carey was famously on the receiving end of the protestor’s infamous brand of direct action when he stormed the pulpit in Westminster Abbey midway through his Easter sermon to protest the archbishop’s condemnation of same-sex marriage. Here, Carey explains his side of the story, but also volunteers that Tatchell has been a great “force for good” and ultimately “on the right side of history”. This admission of support is a remarkable moment, especially considering the humiliation Carey endured that day. His inclusion in this documentary was a master-stroke and makes for compelling viewing.
Similarly, the retrospective finds its observational legs in its final act, in which the crew follows Tatchell in Moscow as he surreptitiously arrives to protest against Putin’s regime during the Football World Cup. With pulse-racing adrenaline we watch as Russian forces intervene on his one-man media-staged protest that grabbed headlines all over the world. In covering this incident in detail, director Amos underlines that Tatchell is absolutely not a man ready to turn in the activist towel anytime soon.
The personal effects of his activism have been profound. His health has been affected by all the public beatings, but the emotional scars are clear too. This is, of course, a sympathetic portrait but it’s clear that Tatchell is a man whose life has borne a personal cost for the larger cause he serves. And this documentary is a fitting tribute and outstanding document of his longstanding commitment to the LGBT+ cause.
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