Notes From the Margins…

Chris Tookey wields the hatchet

  • October 22, 2012
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You don’t have to do much to convince me that the Daily Mail is a cultural wasteland.  But just in case I needed any reminding, my daughter has drawn my attention to a terrible review by the Mail‘s film critic Chris Tookey of Sally Potter’s magnificent Ginger and Rosa.

I went to see the film with my daughter on Saturday, and we were both knocked out by it.   It works on many different levels.  It’s an intimate portrayal of female teenage friendship (driven by two stunning performances by the two leads), with all the romanticism, naiveté, melodrama and self-absorption that goes with that territory.

It’s  a beautifully well-observed period piece that meticulously recreates the lost world of CND and the Cuban missile crisis with affection and irony.   Last but not least, it’s a subtle but remorseless examination of male narcissism in the central figure of Ginger’s manipulative and pretentious anarchist/conscientious objector father Roland.

Roland is a figure who has often been depicted in fiction: the leftwinger with pristine political views who feels more for an abstract notion of humanity/the working classes etc than he does for the people around him, and whose relationships with women and with his children are characterized by manipulation, selfishness and dishonesty.

It’s a stock character that easily lends itself to parody and caricature, as in Malcolm Bradbury’s The History Man, to take but one example.  Both Potter and her male lead Alessandro Nivola avoid these tendencies, and manage to create a character who is quietly appalling and also faintly tragic.

All this is achieved with tremendous flair, humour and humanity, not to mention real directorial verve  – the first thirty minutes or so in particular are just bravura filmmaking and manage to convey so much about the two central characters with the lightest of touches.

Needless to say, Tookey sees things somewhat differently, and offers his readers the damning verdict: ‘ All-star cast of Ginger and Rosa bombs in this missile crisis disaster.’

What has aroused the wrath of the Mail’s illustrious critic?   Well, first of all there is the fact that Potter’s film ‘  has attracted a stellar cast but I imagine that”s chiefly because of its Left-wing politics.’

Yes readers, it’s the ‘left-wing establishment’ again, dominating and controlling the British film industry as it controls so much else.  The power we have, it’s enough to go to one’s head, isn’t it?   And even worse

Potter chooses not to challenge the characters” unanimous faith in unilateral nuclear disarmament. The uncomfortable truth that John F. Kennedy, the darling of the liberal Left, used the missile crisis to face down a genuine threat is never explored.

In fact Potter doesn’t ‘choose’ to do anything of the kind.   Her film deals primarily with the (sometimes histrionic and hysterical) fears of her central character Ginger to the prospect of nuclear annihilation – fears that were shared by millions of people at the time, particularly the young.

She also shows how these fears overlap with Ginger’s personal crises and are to some extent a product of them.  But that’s not good enough.  For Tookey expects her – and us – to like nuclear weapons, and also to praise Kennedy for engaging in a macho facedown with the Soviet Union that could have ignited a nuclear war and killed tens of millions of people.   Brave President Kennedy and bad Sally Potter for not recognizing his moral courage.

Tookey is entitled to his political opinions,  but what is really shambolic and unacceptable about his lazy hatchet-job is the way that he allows them to neuter his critical faculties, leading him to make fatuous observations such as the following:

Lurking somewhere beneath the surface is an unstated question about how hypocritical Ginger”s father is when he calls for free love while mistreating his wife, and professes responsibility for the world”s future when he feels so little for his family. But Potter lacks the courage — or sense of humour — to address these issues, and instead takes refuge in an “aaah, isn”t it sad” study of a girl never really growing up.

To which one can only say, huuh?  Given that  this ‘unstated question’ is in fact a central concern of the whole film.   But Tookey lacks the intelligence to get this.  Or perhaps he just hates the film’s politics – as perceived by him – too much, and therefore he can only conclude that

 many people will be baffled as to how this movie attracted funding from the British Film Institute. Could it be that it attracted public money because it offers such a rosy view of the Left?

Gosh, there’s a thought, isn’t there?   It’s also possible, of course, that the film attracted public money because the BFI recognized a brilliant script and a great director when they saw one.

And Tookey’s dim-witted observations will leave many non-Daily Mail readers baffled as to how he can call himself a film critic, when the evidence of this review suggests a man whose prejudices have made him blind.

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About Me

I’m a writer, campaigner and journalist.  My latest book is The Savage Frontier: The Pyrenees in History and the Imagination (New Press/Hurst, 2018).  The Infernal Machine is where I write on politics, history, cinema and other things that interest me.

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