Film Review - this week's releases

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Film critic Mark Kermode reviews the week's film releases, including I'm So Excited, Dead Man Down, and All Stars.

film critic for bbc

Mark Kermode

Outspoken, opinionated and never lost for words, mark kermode is the uk's leading film critic. , he is chief film critic for the observer and on the  bbc news channel film review ; he hosts his own podcast  kermode on film , and has a soundtrack movie soundtrack show on scala radio. he co-hosts  kermode & mayo's film review  on bbc radio 5 live, presents  mark kermode's secrets of cinema  on bbc2 and a has a monthly live show at the bfi southbank,  mark kermode live in 3d., hailed by stephen fry as 'the finest film critic in britain' he is the author of several books about film, most recently his memoir  how does it feel a life of musical misadventures. , he plays double-bass and harmonica in the  dodge brothers , the award-winning skiffle-and-blues band who also accompany silent movies with neil brand. he holds two sony awards for his radio programmes, and the dodge brothers album  the sun set  was voted blues album of the year 2013 by the roots music magazine spiral earth. with his wife linda he co-curates the shetland film festival., hello to jason isaacs.

Whatever happened to the BBC’s ‘Film’ show?

film critic for bbc

Image: ©BBC

If you live in the UK, and you’re a movie buff, then at some point in your life you will have watched the BBC’s flagship review show, ‘ Film ’. The series – that was fronted by British movie critic, Barry Norman for decades – was a staple of the schedules, providing film fans with all the latest reviews and news.

But if you’ve not caught an episode in quite some time, it’s not because you’ve been busy, it’s because the BBC’s ‘ Film ’ is no longer on the air. It last cropped up in the schedules in 2018, then left TV screens forever.

So, what happened?

The demise of ‘ Film ’

film critic for bbc

In short, ‘ Film ’ was cancelled. The BBC announced the programme’s cancellation in late December 2018. It is entirely possible you missed the announcement, because it arrived with little fanfare, and during that period of the year where everyone is drunk and no one knows what day it is. *

* This is a reference to Christmas, not a lockdown caused by a global pandemic.

film critic for bbc

As for the reason for ‘ Film ’s’ cancellation? A decline in ratings and a general change in the way viewers consumed movies (and movie reviews).

When ‘ Film ’ began, back in 1971, television was a great way to keep up with the latest film news and reviews. But by 2018, the Internet changed all that and reviews could be found online at the click of a button, on blogs, on YouTube, or via podcasts.

Despite its popularity (and longevity), there simply wasn’t a place in the TV schedules for ‘ Film ’, and the Beeb gave it the chop. In its place, the station promised to re-focus its film output via other avenues.

Speaking about the changes in December 2018, a spokesperson for the BBC , said: “In 2019, we will be creating an enhanced offer for lovers of film both on television and online which will be a more consistent approach across the year.”

film critic for bbc

Arguably the most upsetting thing about ‘ Film ’s’ demise was the way the BBC simply let it fade away, without a big send off. It left screens and simply never came back.

I’m pretty confident there are a number of viewers out there who are still scanning copies of the Radio Times , trying to find out where ‘ Film ’ is. If only someone would point them in the direction of this blog, so that I can break the news they are a few years too late.

‘ Film ’ in focus

film critic for bbc

‘ Film ’ might have died a death a while back now, but we still have our memories. And for anyone whose memory isn’t quite so sharp these days, here’s a few key points about the show:

Thank you for taking the time to read this post about the BBC’s ‘ Film ’ show. For more movie-related posts, check out the recommended reads below, or take a look around It’s A Stampede!

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Dr Mark Kermode

Dr mark kermode (ba english language and literature 1985, phd 1991) – distinguished film critic, presenter, the culture show, bbc 2.

Dr Kermode is probably the UK’s best known and well respected film critic. He currently reviews and debates new film releases every Friday with Simon Mayo on BBC Radio 5 Live. He co-presents The Culture Show on BBC Two and is a familiar face on arts shows such as Newsnight Review . He has written extensively on film for publications including The Independent , The Guardian , New Statesman, Vox and Empire magazine.

Born in Barnet, North London, in 1963, Dr Kermode began working as a journalist while still an English undergraduate at The University of Manchester in the early 1980s, reviewing films and music for Manchester’s City Life magazine. He stayed in Manchester to pursue a PhD in modern English and American horror fiction, which he gained in 1991, before moving to London to write for publications such as Time Out and the NME .

It was while at Time Out that Dr Kermode got his first break in broadcasting. LBC Radio was seeking a film reviewer. Dr Kermode volunteered and his passionate, opinionated and knowledgeable style was an instant success. He was subsequently invited to become the film reviewer for BBC Radio 1. From there it was short jump to BBC Radio 5 Live, first with Mark Radcliffe and then with Simon Mayo. On television, Mark co-presents the BBC Two arts programme The Culture Show and contributes to The Film Review on the BBC News channel.

Dr Kermode is not only a distinguished film critic. He has written and presented several television documentaries and authored a number of books on film. In 2004 he jointly curated a ‘history of the horror film season’ at the National Film Theatre in London, with his wife Linda, professor of film studies at the University of Southampton. His autobiography, It’s Only a Movie: Reel Life Adventures of a Film Obsessive , was published in 2010.

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Den of Geek

The role of film criticism and programming on the BBC

As the BBC reaffirms its commitment to covering cinema, we look at why factual and critical film programming is so valuable...

film critic for bbc

When BBC One cancelled its flagship film programme in December 2018, it created a bit of a gap in the TV schedules. Originally hosted by Barry Norman and later ably helmed by Jonathan Ross and Claudia Winkleman, the aptly named  Film… programme comprised reviews, behind-the-scenes items, and interviews related to current releases.

Broadcasting to the nation from 1972 up until last year, the programme was essentially the definitive article when it came to film criticism on UK television. In its absence, with YouTube videos and Rotten Tomatoes ratings garnering more attention than traditional mediums for reviews, it’s heartening that the BBC is still committed to serving film lovers in their forthcoming schedules.

We’re just starting to see what that means with the commissioning of two new programmes for BBC Four and online platforms, as part of the Compete or Compare strategy launched in 2014 . These include a documentary series exploring the art of “the perfect film” and a series of digital video essays set to be released online on a weekly basis. 

But current films are important to audiences too. Last year saw massive attendance figures in UK cinemas, with 177 million admissions over the course of 2018 marking a 50-year high for the industry. So, it’s a shame if the most coverage of new films on BBC One or Two in any given week comes when  The Graham Norton Show   gets a few good guests on to promote their latest films.  

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While Norton’s show is undoubtedly the most effective porting of the late-night chat show format for UK audiences, it’s never going to cast a critical eye over, say,  Pirates Of The Caribbean 6: The Haunted Crow’s Nest Or Whatever  (now playing in the Bad Place). 

Ironically, the corporation has the critical side of this visual medium covered across plenty of radio shows and podcasts, including Radio 1’s Movies with Ali Plumb, the BBC Sounds podcast Screen Time, and of course, Radio 5 Live’s Film Review with Mark Kermode and Simon Mayo . 

Meanwhile, other TV broadcasters are only really broaching films in light entertainment formats, like the just-announced Sky quiz show  There’s Something About Movies  and ITV’s  Keith & Paddy Picture Show , or otherwise trotting out the kind of interminable list show where the usual talking heads describing clips back to you in between watching them, with no real insight. 

Uniquely untethered by commercial considerations, the BBC has the capacity to make more critical and informative programmes about films. And they arguably had that going for a while there, with the  Film…  programme. 

Film 1972-2019

film critic for bbc

Having won the resident critic role after a trial run piloted in the south east in late 1971, Barry Norman became the UK’s film critic of choice over the course of his 26-year stint hosting the programme. With a mix of clips, interviews, and reviews, the show was devoted to the week’s new releases, with a few coming attractions thrown in for good measure.

His no-frills style of hosting felt like sitting down with someone you know, a style that Ross would continue in a more modern fashion when he took over the show with  Film 1999 . During the period in which Ross was the corporation’s biggest star, the show continued as a late-night staple of the BBC One schedule.

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Oddly, the show would always take a break during the summer, meaning that some of the year’s biggest films were summarily discussed at the start of the next series, rather than given the same treatment. It’s hard to imagine any film show getting off the blocks right now that would air in the cinematic off-season, but admittedly, that’s more because tentpoles come around every week now.

film critic for bbc

After Ross parted ways with the BBC, the format was changed drastically, taking on more of a panel/magazine show format and switching to the “presenter and contributor” model that works so well for Kermode and Mayo on the radio. Despite ruling themselves out, those two were popular choices to succeed Ross and the appointment of Claudia Winkleman predictably had a certain type of film fan spitting. 

Despite some instant doomsaying, the combo of Winkleman and new resident critic Danny Leigh continued to get a pretty solid audience share in the timeslot it inherited, even if the format wasn’t really the same. It was only when Winkleman and Leigh moved on , and the new format regressed to its pre-Norman format by having guest presenters and rotating pundits alongside Ellen E. Jones, that the flagship started flagging.

While the timeslot was fine, the show’s timing was a problem.  Film 2018  comprised five episodes that went out in March, after the Oscars and before the blockbuster season and generally completely out of the way of any interesting happenings in the film calendar.

Between them, Winkleman and Leigh did show that a modernised  Film… show could work, but the immediate aftermath of their departure shows the importance of casting the right personalities for a film review show.

The departure of the  Film… programme leaves Kermode and Mayo’s Film Review as the new premier BBC film programme. Popular with listeners around the world, the key is its mix of good-natured bickering and labyrinthine in-jokes, as much as its perspective on film.  

Hello to Mark Kermode

film critic for bbc

The good ship “Wittertainment” even has a vocal contingent of listeners who don’t even go to see films that much, so it’s demonstrably a popular combination of format and presenters. The show fosters lively and entertaining discussions about cinema, where even the “supply teachers” who fill in for the headline duo, like Edith Bowman, Robbie Collin, Ben Bailey Smith, and Clarisse Loughrey, are more or less primed for TV and radio vehicles of their own. 

Still, it’s understandable that Kermode is front and centre in most of the BBC’s current film programming on television. As well as appearing on the weekly BBC News film review segment, he’s the frontman of  Secrets Of Cinema , the excellent BBC Four factual series that he co-writes with fellow critic Kim Newman .  

Comprising seven episodes to date, the series examines different genres and trends in cinema in each episode, ranging from romantic comedies and horror films to recent specials about Christmas movies and Oscar winners. There’s a little editorialising in from the presenter in there, but you usually come away with a massive watch-list of films both old and new.

film critic for bbc

 Upon initial broadcast, BBC Four usually follows each episode up with a related film screening, including  The Artist  after their recent Oscars special and  The Bishop’s Wife  for the Christmas one. It’s a scheduling approach that reminds us of how great it would be to see a revival of BBC Two’s  Moviedrome,  the film series that saw Alex Cox (and later Mark Cousins) introduce screenings of cult films with items about the context in which the film was made. We previously wrote about it here .

Across both TV and radio programmes, and both critical and factual approaches, Kermode’s brand is based on him being opinionated, but it’s his passion for film that makes him interesting. Negative reviews are entertaining, and indeed, his have gone viral a few times in the age of in-studio webcams ,  but he’s rarely if ever dismissive of a film. His reviews are considered and contextualised, even when he’s doing daft voices. 

Arguably, it’s this quality that makes him the UK’s most trusted film critic, according to a 2010 YouGov poll in which he won a whopping 3% of the vote. Literally second to none, he polled highest of the critics included, while 28% of people said they trusted their own opinions rather than those of anyone else. And why not?

Make your own mind up

film critic for bbc

 But as always, film reviews aren’t there to tell you what to think. It’s entirely possible to read or watch a review without being so suggestible as to take on the reviewer’s opinions without further critical thought and you might even enjoy watching or reading someone’s reviews without agreeing with them. 

Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert became iconic on US TV for their film reviews and their style of reviewing could well have influenced Kermode and Mayo. Later, Ebert was an early adopter of online reviewing just as he had been with reviewing on the telly and was quite sanguine about criticism of his criticism. 

In his  Movie Yearbook 2012,  he said: “I don’t consider my reviews instructions to readers about whether they should see a film. They’re more like a continuing conversation. Nobody enjoys it when people get too wound up and start shouting.”

In any medium, reviews are about context and that comes from familiarity and consistency. Critics like Norman and Kermode may only be the UK’s most trusted film critics by a plurality, but their popularity comes from their passion and expertise about films, even if we don’t always agree with their opinions. Because unlike other BBC programmes, a new film programme needn’t be about balance. 

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Film criticism is a subjective pursuit that doesn’t always fall into the Fresh/Rotten dichotomy. With current affairs coverage going to hell, the kind of large adult boys and girls who demand that a film review always reflects their own opinion aren’t going to watch a programme that doesn’t anyway; not when they have the entire bottom half of the internet to express themselves instead.

For those who are open to it, there’s more than enough scope for a new magazine-style show that covers all things cinematic while providing real insight and context. With the right casting and an entertaining format, an enterprising commissioner could complement the Beeb’s existing coverage and cast off with a brand-new flagship film show. 

But mostly, bring back  Moviedrome .

Mark Harrison

Mark Harrison | @MHarrison90

Mark is a writer from Middlesbrough, who once drunkenly tried (and failed) to pitch a film about his hometown to a director from Pixar. Fortunately, he…


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