You've Been Trumped, BBC Two | reviews, news & interviews
You've Been Trumped, BBC Two
You've Been Trumped, BBC Two
Powerful David v Goliath polemic pitches Donald Trump against the citizens of north-east Scotland
It has never been easier to get sucked into a warm, simplistic sensibility which portrays every rich capitalist businessman as corrupt and amoral, but you spend 90 minutes watching Donald Trump in action and you start to wonder. If Trump didn't exist you suspect Martin Amis would invent him. He would probably call his caricature of a dastardly US business tycoon Donald Shit.
Anthony Baxter’s powerful, unashamedly partisan film pitches a number of principled Davids against this gammon-faced, lizard-eyed, overcombed Goliath. The story begins in 2006, when Trump first set his sights on the Menie Estate, just north of Aberdeen, as a home to Trump International Golf Course. His vision: a £1bn investment to build “the world’s greatest golf course” with hotels, apartments and villas. There was a problem, however. The dunes (pictured below) are a designated wilderness environment given accolade status. Not only do they have unique scientific value, they are also home to numerous forms of wildlife.
Trump’s first application, therefore, was rejected by the local council on the grounds that it failed the sustainable development test “in spades”, according to Green councillor Martin Ford. Then something unprecedented occurred: the Scottish Government called in the application, taking it out of the council’s hands. This has never happened before. They reversed the original veto and gave the project the green light. The estate is in First Minister Alex Salmond’s constituency.
The argument was that the benefits to the local community through new jobs and tourist expenditure outweighed the environmental concerns. Fine, except the project was contracted to an Irish company, and much of the casual work was given to migrant labour. And with the Trump complex designed to be entirely self-contained, experts predict the positive impact on local economy will be negligible, certainly compared to the negative impact on the environment.
That Trump’s cash was allowed to run roughshod over planning legislation and environmental issues is one thing. But what about the human cost? This film narrowed in on the impact on the lives of the people living in proximity to the golf site, and in particular Michael Forbes, a farmer who refused to sell his land and was thus subjected to a tirade of personal denigration and character assassination from Trump. “I don’t think guests in my hotel want to look down into a slum,” he said. “He lives like a pig; it’s disgusting.”
Forbes' (pictured left) hands and forearms are festooned with tattoos; he speaks in impenetrable Doric which often requires subtitles. You can see why Trump views him with nothing but contempt; you can also see why Baxter loves him, wittily quoting from the 1983 film Local Hero, about another quiet, intransigent local eccentric who refused to bow to the Yankee business dollar.
We see the cause uniting farmers, artists, fisherman, academics. When Trump is awarded an honorary degree at Robert Gordon University, the former principal returns his honorary degree in disgust. Former Clash producer Mickey Foote now lives in the area and makes an entertainingly committed activist.
The arrogance, the gracelessness, the bullying, is beyond caricature. Anyone who knows the north-east of Scotland appreciates its tight community ties and the people's symbiotic relationship with their immediate environment. Trump rolls in to Balmedie with his convoy of silver people-carriers and yes-men much in the manner Dubya barged into Iraq: with a kind of malicious cluelessness. On The David Letterman Show, the host asks: “Is the course on the west coast of Scotland?” “More or less” comes Trump's shrugged reply.
Baxter (pictured right, with Forbes) skilfully cuts between Trump’s mendacious, deluded outpourings – “the greatest thing I’ll ever do for the environment is here in Scotland” – and what is commonly known as the truth: felling trees (and, bizarrely, burying them), flattening dunes, cutting power lines, wreaking havoc on the water supply, playing fast and loose with the building plans and generally fucking with people’s lives. He captures the constant, lurking malice of circling security vehicles, and some highly partisan and politicised policing. Baxter is arrested with no little hostility for no reason, yet the police are entirely uninterested in addressing any of Trump’s transgressions.
Trump is a gift for a filmmaker, and one Baxter doesn’t spurn. Alex Salmond, for one, gets off relatively scot-free, but then with a prime piece of villainous humanity at the heart of this story it’s hard not to go for the bull’s-eye. Make no mistake, You've Been Trumped is an entirely partisan piece of film-making (Trump declined all invitations for a formal interview, as did the Scottish Government and Grampian police). “Additional thanks” are offered in the credits to Michael Moore, and you can see why. This is polemic, at times skilfully stage-managed. In the dénouement Baxter calls Trump Towers in New York from Local Hero's famous red phone box (located in Pennan, a tiny fishing village not far from Balmedie). He pushes in the 50p pieces as he waits to be told that Trump won’t take his call. Of course he won't. Baxter knows he won't. But the chance to hammer home the gulf between the tyrannical tycoon and the people of Aberdeenshire was clearly too good to waste.
But a canny camera can only take you so far. Reality is not, sadly, a Bill Forsyth movie. Trump's gaudy golf course opened in the summer. Hopefully someone will put a ball in Michael Forbes’s farmyard and have to ask politely for it back. The triumph, I suppose, is that he is still there at all.
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