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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Drama without sensation: A Separation is an unsettling novel of distances

In Katie Kitamura’s novel, it is the distance between the narrator’s two selves that causes her most discomfort.

In a 2013 interview with Guernica, the online magazine, the novelist Katie Kitamura discussed how publishing’s “deeply patronising attitude” towards female readers results in overtly feminine book covers, featuring, for instance, women in bathing suits. “That’s not the kind of book cover that makes me want to buy a book,” she said.

The cover of Kitamura’s latest novel, A Separation, does, surprisingly, feature a woman in a bathing suit. But there is something quietly unsettling about this picture: the woman, who has her back to us, is awkwardly cropped out of frame from the elbows up, and she is sitting at the edge of an oddly shaped pool. Most of the cover is solid turquoise – a bright wash of negative space.

Kitamura’s unnamed narrator is a poised literary translator. As the novel opens in London, we learn that she is married to Christopher (a charming, haphazard non-author) but, in secret, they have been living separately for the past six months. When she receives a telephone call from Christopher’s mother, Isabella, informing her that he has seemingly gone missing in Greece, she doesn’t let on about her disintegrating marriage but boards a plane to look for him.

Much of the rest of the novel takes place in Greece: at a “very pleasant” hotel, in “perfect weather”, the pool “heated to a very comfortable temperature”. The area has recently experienced a string of devastating fires, leaving patches of scorched earth. The location has an almost eerie surface stillness that jars with the mystery at its heart. In this way, Kitamura (an art critic as well as novelist) creates a setting somehow reminiscent of David Hockney’s A Bigger Splash, Christopher’s sudden disappearance leaving behind no visible ripples.

The narrator, too, has a glassy composure at odds with the tumultuous events. On deciding to end her marriage formally, she shows neither despair nor relief, but anxiety about the etiquette. “I assumed – I had no prior experience to go on – that asking for a divorce was always discomfiting,” she says with typical understatement, “but I could not believe it was always this awkward.” Of her feelings for her new partner, Yvan, she notes that they seem more like “administration rather than passion”, and then offers a moderated gloss of Hamlet, “You cannot say you did it out of love, since at your age romantic passions have grown weak, and the heart obeys reason.

Her emotional separation from the trauma of her circumstances allows the narrator to examine the facts of her husband’s disappearance. She knows Christopher was unfaithful and she immediately identifies the hotel receptionist as the object of his attentions. We never see the narrator professionally translating, but the novel is concerned with her attempts to read the deeper meanings behind the remarks and behaviour of those around her. She finds it easy to imagine unseen contexts to conversations: an argument between Christopher’s parents, an embrace between her taxi driver and the hotel receptionist. As she writes, “Imagination, after all, costs nothing.”

Her propensity for projection is such that some things remain lost in translation. Even the most minute interactions can be misread. When Christopher’s mother comments that the two women’s love for her son connects them, “she was looking over my shoulder, as if watching someone approach . . . she was staring at nothing”. The novel occupies this imaginative negative space: the gap between what people think and how they appear.

Ultimately, it is the distance between the narrator’s two selves that causes her most discomfort. How long will she allow others to read her as the concerned, loving wife? Should she admit she wants to find Christopher in order to request that they separate officially? As her search continues she notes, “There was a small but definite wedge pushing between the person I was and the person I was purporting to be.”

There is a suspenseful and menacing tone to Kitamura’s prose that might trick a reader into thinking, at first, they are in the territory of thrillers such as Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train. Both these novels, like A Separation, have narrators who defy readers’ attempts to fathom their emotional depths and to deal with questions of how well you know anyone – even your own partner. But this is a work free of sensation, or even resolution. As the narrator notes, in the shock of an event it is natural to look for a more dramatic narrative. “But in the end,” she says, “this is only chasing shadows. The real culpability is not to be found in the dark or with a stranger, but in ourselves.”

A Separation by Katie Kitamura is published by Clerkenwell Press (231pp, £12.99)

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

This article first appeared in the 23 March 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump's permanent revolution