Brendan O'Carroll and the cast of Mrs Brown's Boys D'Movie.
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Why wasn’t “Mrs Brown’s Boys D’Movie” shown to critics ahead of its release?

The trend for distributors to refuse advanced previews for critics speaks volumes about their attitude to the press - but it’s a risky strategy, and doesn’t always mean the film is a dud.

It’s a shame that the distributor of Mrs Brown’s Boys D’Movie has decreed that the film should not be available to be reviewed in advance by the press. Admittedly some critics may regard this decision as less of a pity and more like a lucky escape. If you want to get some idea of why they feel this way, you don’t even to need to watch an episode of the BBC sitcom of which it is a spin-off. Just have a peek at the trailer. Though before you rush to judgement, do bear in mind that some terrific films have suffered from wretched trailers. The one promoting Tim Burton’s Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street famously didn’t even bother telling audiences that the movie was a musical containing almost no spoken dialogue whatsoever. So it’s perfectly plausible that whoever cut together the trailer for Mrs Brown’s Boys D’Movie neglected to include any of the moments that might be amusing. Or, for that matter, any excerpts which don’t resemble the comedic equivalent of nails dragging along a blackboard so intensely for the rest of time that the arrival of Armageddon would be greeted like a tall, cold drink at the end of a Saharan slog.

There are a number of reasons why I’m sorry that the film has been deemed too fragile for critical eyes, and none of them has to do with having strong feelings for or against the original sitcom. I can appreciate easily its end-of-the-pier, music-hall appeal, even if I am not one of those who has fallen for its raggedy charms. I can see that its creator and cross-dressing star, Brendan O’Carroll, is a canny entertainer who knows his audience. And I’ve met some intelligent people who adore it, such as the actor-writer-director Kathy Burke, who told me recently that she is a fan of the show. “I really love what Brendan has done,” she said. “Sometimes in our business we think we’re here to entertain each other and we forget there’s an audience at home. They’re the most important ones—not pleasing the Bafta panel that year.”

The problem with hiding movies from critics and reviewers is that it patronises everyone on the film food chain, including the audience and even the filmmakers themselves. Writers whose job it is to interpret and reflect upon work of every conceivable genre, standard, language and cultural and geographical origin are effectively deemed to be of insufficient imagination to tell whether a comedy succeeds in being funny, or whether it is likely to tickle its target audience. A review can be personal but it can’t be biased. It would be a dereliction of duty if, say, a musical or a western were dismissed simply because a critic was averse to that genre. For that reason the job of the critic (distinct from that of the blogger) is to have an immediate and sympathetic familiarity with a vast range of cinema, distinct from personal preference.  That’s a rambling way of saying that I’ve been obscurely slighted by not being trusted to see Mrs Brown’s Boys D’Movie.

But let’s face it: the reason critics were given the heave-ho in this instance was because the chances were that they would put the boot in. Some films would have a hard time enduring in the marketplace without a critical boost (such as Richard Linklater’s Boyhood, which is being released on 11 July by Universal, the same distributor behind Mrs Brown’s Boys D’Movie). Others, such as summer blockbusters, demand saturation coverage, and reviews are still part of that, even if they may not persuade or dissuade the majority of potential viewers. A recent trend is to preview big films too late for advance word to build, be it positive or negative. Last month’s Tom Cruise vehicle Edge of Tomorrow was screened in that way, which was a surprise since it transpired to be rather good. A mark of how low the stock of critics has fallen in the eyes of some studios and distributors, and how highly social media is valued, can be found in the tactic of mixing Twitter comments in among professional plaudits and star ratings when there aren’t enough positive critical quotes to fill the blank spaces on a film poster. Most suspect was the case of Midnight’s Children, which featured a prominent approving quote from Salman Rushdie, who happened to have written not only the novel on which that picture was based but its screenplay also.

To make a movie completely unavailable to critics, though, is to risk attaching to it pre-emptively the stink of disaster. The first time I encountered that was when the 1997 film version of The Avengers, starring Ralph Fiennes and Uma Thurman, was hidden from critics’ eyes. (We had to review it by dashing along on opening day and filing our reviews in a panic.) The most recent was The Harry Hill Movie. While both were lacking, neither was a turkey. With Mrs Brown’s Boys D’Movie, as with those titles, the decision has been taken that it is better to rush the film out so that it might have a shot at a decent opening weekend without the potential deterrent of bad reviews. Everyone loses. The filmmakers get to feel that no one has faith in their movie, professional critics and reviewers are snubbed, and audiences can rest assured that their feeble sensibilities have been lovingly protected from the beastly horrid press—by the same people keen to grab their £12 admission price before word gets out that they’ve (possibly) been sold a pup.

Mrs Brown’s Boys D’Movie is released tomorrow.

Ryan Gilbey is the New Statesman's film critic. He is also the author of It Don't Worry Me (Faber), about 1970s US cinema, and a study of Groundhog Day in the "Modern Classics" series (BFI Publishing). He was named reviewer of the year in the 2007 Press Gazette awards.

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Do the abusive messages sent to One Direction members reveal a darker side to fandom?

Incidents like this are often used to characterise all young female fans, but this isn’t about fandom. It’s harassment. 

One Direction’s Niall Horan is the internet’s favourite innocent blond goofball. He spends his days tweeting platitudes about golf and the weather, Snapchatting his reactions to whatever is on his TV, and thanking his fans for everything they’ve done for him. His social media presence is generally one of cheerful bemusement.

So, last night, the web went into maternal #ProtectNiall mode when he took to Twitter to highlight the darker side to fame.

A group of “fans” got hold of Niall’s number, and started frantically texting, WhatsApping and calling him. After two weeks of constant abusive messaging, despite requests to stop, Niall tries to use his platform to get them to stop.

Around the same time, screenshots of the supposed messages started to circle online. (I certainly can’t prove whether they’re real or not, but they first surfaced before Niall’s tweets and feel genuine.) The pattern that emerges seems to be one of frantic, attention-seeking messaging, extreme shock and surprise when he writes back, and, when Niall only requests that they stop messaging him and respect his privacy, the really nasty stuff starts. Messages range from “You invented cancer” to “If [your nephew] was my kid I’d sell it”; from “You’re so stupid and r*tarded” to “I hope your house blows up”.

Niall’s responses are extremely Niall in their politeness. “Why do I deserve to have a bad day?” he asks one. “You guys are bullies,” he tells them. “Go away please.”

As soon as the screenshots emerged, so did suspicions about the identity of the individuals in question. A set of five or six Twitter handles were circled by fan accounts, encouraging people to block and report the usernames to Twitter. Some of the owners of these accounts themselves claim to have been part of the conversations in question, to varying degrees. These account owners are seemingly women, under the age of 18, who have supposedly been involved in other recent One Direction harassment incidents.

One of those incidents came just days before Niall’s tweets. A person suspected to be a member of this group of “fans” got hold of another band member’s phone number: Louis Tomlinson’s. You can listen to a recording of the phone conversation between them that leaked online. After telling him her Twitter handle, Tomlinson asks the caller how she got his number. “You’re a fucking bitch and I hope your baby dies,” she says. Louis responds with a variation on the ancient proverb, “Lawyer up, asshole.” He seemingly tweeted about the incident later that day – and Niall retweeted him.

Fan accounts insist that the same Twitter users were also involved in hacking the iCloud of Anne Twist, Harry Styles’s mother, and leaking hundreds of photos of her son online.

The whole situation is a complicated mess. Parts of the messages feel as though they have been influenced by the style of accounts desperately trying to get the attention of celebrities on Twitter. If you look at the top reply to any tweet from a celebrity with millions of Twitter followers, the responses are calculated to shock the most in an attempt to get noticed. Maybe it’s a weird combination of sexual and violent imagery, or a sexist or racist slur. This is harassment itself, but its ubiquitousness can make it seem less offensive or extreme. Perhaps this kind of behaviour is easier to ignore on Twitter or Instagram – if you have millions of followers, you presumably can’t be notified every time one of them interacts with you online. When it moves into your private sphere, I can image it becomes more terrifying than annoying. Maybe these girls were simply swept up in the cultural moment, and failed to grasp the consquences of their behaviour.

Is it a damning indictment of the hysteria of teenage girls? The scary state of twenty-first century fandom? The problems of anonymity offered by the internet? It’s true that the internet has offered new ways for fans and celebrities to have a more direct connection with one another: for the most part, a mutually beneficial arrangement.

But the revelation of the internet has also been that it is a tool through which fundamentally human behaviours are expressed. Over the last few decades, we have learned that aggressive behaviour online is not limited to largely non-existent stereotypes of spotty virgins in their mothers’ basements, or teenage girls developing “dangerous” sexuality. Grown men and women, mothers, fathers, daughters, sons all do it. It’s also not a behaviour that is inherently connected to online spaces: children and teenagers might experiment with moral boundaries through cyberbullying, but they also might do it via anonymous notes in lockers or whispers in school corridors. People of all ages, professions and genders harass others.

The real problem is not celebrity culture or the concept of teenage fandom or social media. As Louis Tomlinson rightly identifies, it’s that our laws have failed to catch up. If we continue to treat harassment as harassment, in all spaces and by all perpetrators, we’ll have a better chance of minimising it.

Anna Leszkiewicz is a pop culture writer at the New Statesman.