Donald Clarke

Whingeing about cinema and real life since 2009

Mark Kermode takes over from Philip French at The Observer

The rockabilly Exorcist enthusiast should be a popular choice as the Sunday paper’s film reviewer

Sat, Aug 17, 2013, 19:11


You couldn’t exactly describe the coverage as a “fever of speculation”. But it is some measure of Philip French’s standing that, when he announced his retirement as film critic for The Observer a few months ago, there was some significant chatter about who would take over the spot. Mark Kermode, who has often stood in for Philip and who writes the Observer’s DVD column, would have been many punters first choice. He is equally at home to high-brow and populist material. He seems to be an honest sort. He has a neat turn of phrase. Indeed, the general assumption was that the job was his if he wanted it. Those last four words are significant. Over the last decade, Kermode has become increasingly busy on TV and radio. His show on BBC Radio 5 Live with Simon Mayo spawns one of the Corporation’s most popular podcasts. He has written a couple of books. He delivers slots for The Culture Show on the telly. Many (ahem) observers felt that — as the most well-known film critic in the UK — he wouldn’t have the time for creaky old newspaper reviewing.┬áThe fact that he has elected to take the job can be seen as an implicit tribute to that venerable class of arts criticism. Some of us still believe this stuff still matter, it seems.

One thing strikes me. The Observer is among the very, very few British publications to hold out against the awarding of stars to film reviews. A change of personnel may offer editors the opportunity to bring the column in line with the score-based system in place everywhere else. But we know Mark doesn’t much like star rating (few grown-up critics do). So the paper may continue to hold out here.

Anyway, after 50 years at the helm (or nearby), Mr French should be happy that the paper found a proper critic to succeed him. He does not have to hand over to somebody who rates movies with a baseball cap sided by thumbs that, depending upon the current film’s quality, turn upwards or downwards. The paper gets the best of all worlds: a degree of respectability and an increase in sales (or, more realistically, hits).

Here’s Mark’s top 10 for the recent Sight & Sound poll. There’s eccentricity and wisdom here in equal measure. Welcome aboard, Dr K.

Brazil 1985 (Terry Gilliam)

Devils, The 1971 (Ken Russell)

Don’t Look Now 1973 (Nicolas Roeg)

Exorcist, The 1973 (William Friedkin)

Eyes Without a Face 1960 (Georges Franju)

It’s a Wonderful Life 1947 (Frank Capra)

Mary Poppins 1964 (Robert Stevenson)

A Matter of Life and Death 1946 (Michael Powell/Emeric Pressburger)

Pan’s Labyrinth 2006 (Guillermo del Toro)

Seventh Seal, The 1957 (Ingmar Bergman)