The Price of Kings is a series of twelve documentary films from Spirit Level Films, focusing on state leaders from around the world. Released in instalments of three, this film on the President of Israel, Shimon Peres, is the second of the first instalment. The first, great, film, focused on Yasser Arafat, and a third, to be released later this year, will centre on the former President of Costa Rica, Oscar Arias.
The tagline of the series – ‘what would you sacrifice for what you believe?’ – sums up its central premise - it’s about the price leaders pay for leading a country through wars, economic difficulty and anything else thrown at them.
Narrated fleetingly by Helena Bonham Carter, the film tells of Peres’ beginnings in Poland, his journey to become a Nobel Peace Prize winner and his role at the heart of the Israel-Palestine conflict, all the while focusing on Peres as an individual. This isn’t a film about the politics of the conflict, it’s about a person at its heart, conducted through interviews with Peres himself, and those closest to him.
You get the feeling that someone like Peres was never a natural leader of Israel – the Polish lilt to his accent, and his limits in terms of military experience, something still so valued in a country which has spent years fighting for its right to exist and still operates mandatory military service, are made much of. ‘It’s frustrating,’ Peres says, of being taken less seriously as a result.
To get Peres to agree to such a personal interview is undoubtedly a scoop for the makers of the documentary, but Peres is a skilled politician, and you get the feeling that he’s the type of politician who can never quite switch off. In fact, I almost felt that I learned more from the Yasser Arafat film, as he wasn’t there to tell his story. At times, with Peres looking directly into the camera as he speaks, it almost has the feel of a party political broadcast.
However, this is not to detract from the content covered. Peres speaks candidly but calmly about the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, and his masterminding of the 1976 Entebbe rescue operation, which, as he states ‘would be my end’ politically, if it had gone wrong. Recalling seeing Rabin’s body after he had been assassinated, he speaks of a smile upon Rabin’s face. In the aftermath of Rabin’s death he tells of his decision to call an election soon after, and the moral judgement behind it.
Peres is clearly an insular character, and it’s in this way that the films gets the closest to justifying its tagline; Peres sacrifices his emotions, only allowing them to exist internally, in order to lead his country.‘Peres is the most self-controlled person I’ve met in my life’, says one interviewee.
The area in which the film does particularly well is when it comes to the effect on Peres’ family. He admits that his career comes first.‘The most interesting thing in life is to work’, he says. His granddaughter, Mika Peres, agrees: ‘I feel the sacrifice was worth it’. However, not everyone close to Peres felt the same way. For Sonia, Peres’ wife, the sacrifices became too much, and she left the presidential retreat in Jerusalem, leaving Peres to live there alone. This is a little known fact and the film scores highly in that respect.
The great thing about this series is its focus on individuals. You can read about the conflict between Israel and Palestine just about anywhere, but these are a rare glimpse into the motives, fears and feelings of the people who oversee it.
The Price of Kings: Shimon Peres is out now. For more information visit the Price of Kings website. Watch the trailer below.