Reviewing The Reviewers: What Is Going On With UK Journalism?

Perusing the Internet looking for some information about why the Public Enemies DVD seems to be available to buy, but not rent from my regular supplier (I smelt a conspiracy), I happened across this so-so and rather short review from The Mirror's David Edwards. Granted, I'm sure Mr Edwards was limited to the amount of copy he was allowed to produce but really the five-paragraph article surely only qualifies as a synopsis containing some opinion-based phrases the writer managed to sneak past his editor.

British journalism, usually hailed as a bastion of hard work, intelligence, originality and, occasionally, contributory to saving the nation, has taken a bit of a battering in recent months. First we had the Jan Moir piece, rightly pilloried from all corners for its homophobic undertones, masquerading as inflammatory 'comment'. Quickly following that, The Times' flagship 'intelligent man', AA Gill, decided it would be a good idea to shoot a baboon because he was wearing a hat that 'makes you ache to kill stuff', a flippant decision, written about in his normally pompous tone which led to another incidence of what the media are quickly starting to call 'trial by twitter'.

The above two incidents of writers mistaking their copy for credible and un-bigoted pieces when they are absolutely the opposite are bad (really bad), and you would be forgiven for asking where this is going in relation to David Edwards' crime, which surely isn't in the same journalistic, nor criminal, league. You'd be right to and David Edwards misdemeanours don't even come close to approaching Moir's and Gills'. However, after reading his piece on Public Enemies and having had this similarly ridiculous review from The Observer (and normally excellent Phillip French) tweeted to me last week, I was suspicious. Were Britain's journalists falling down around my ears? Had editorial standards sunk to an all-time low that 5 paragraph descriptions of films could pass off as a review? Where were all the good film reviews hiding?

I ploughed on, un-deterred and clicked through to all David Edwards' posts, glancing across at his biography. It described him as 'droll, acerbic and never afraid to ruffle a few feathers'. That's fair enough. My bio describes my degree certificate as being above my toilet when it's actually sitting next to me, awaiting framing, in the study. Suspicion levels creeping upwards I read his latest review which was of a similar length to the one that piqued my interest in the first place. Within the first paragraph I counted three much-used Christmas cliches. In the second he appears to suggest that the effects on show in the Polar Express and Beowulf amount to being 'near-perfect' and in the third he goes to that most used word of the 21st century critic, electing to describe the film as 'dark'. At this point I noticed this review actually had more to it, hidden beneath a 'click for full article' button. I didn't bother.

Instead I went back to his bio. Continuing down it goes on to say that David thinks, 'There Will Be Blood is the greatest flick he's seen since taking the job in 2004'. Redemption! Can it be that this film critic who turns in copy the length of my address and mistakes blank-faced milk bottles for realistic people, actually is a super-critic in disguise? Had I misguidedly judged his heavily edited pieces to actually represent the gamut of his films opinions? Sadly not. The bio continues thus, 'with the little-seen Appaloosa close behind'. Oh dear.

At this point I think it is worth pointing out that my heart did not sink to the depths of writing this due to David Edwards liking Appaloosa, despite the fact that I distinctly did not like it and came pretty damn close to giving it my first one star review for a while. If he likes it that is entirely his opinion which, after all, is the founding philosophy of reviewing something. No, what did motivate this is the fact that he thinks it is the second best film to have been produced since 2004 bah TWBB. Did he forget No Country For Old Men? Fail to see Brokeback Mountain or The Departed? Not hear about a little trio called Slumdog Millionaire, The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button or Frost/Nixon? And that's just naming some of the Oscar nominated films we've had since then. When asked to name the second best film since 2004, did he draw Appaloosa out of a hat?

Maybe it is jealousy. I, the logic goes, like most sensibly minded people, can see that all (or even if you really like Appaloosa, any one) of the above films are technically and artistically better than Appaloosa, therefore, why am I not in David Edward's job? However, largely, it is indignation that prompted my annoyance. However much we would like to think otherwise, writers in newspapers, the Internet and magazines influence what we and the general public think on a weekly, if not daily, basis. Sadly, Mr Edwards' biography, will potentially drive the hundreds of people who see it to miss the above Oscar nominees and instead watch the 'little-seen' (for a reason) Appaloosa. Unlike the Gill and Moir articles, David Edwards' ineptness doesn't reach the offensive but it is still, like the deadly-duo's pieces, a disturbing indictment of what passes for a piece of informed and intelligent journalism in some areas of the Great British press.


  1. Well I think the modern age critics who in the past could get away with mediocre efforts become exposed with mass publication and easy access for readers anywhere. I try not to criticize reviewers since what I do isn't all that much of intense critique, then again nobody pays me to do it. Great article though!

  2. Criticising critics is difficult isn't it because, like I say, it is, at the end of the day a profession built on opinions. However, it is also neccesary because I equally suspect if you or I or 90% of film bloggers out there were challenged to come up with a review of A Christmas Carol of the same length as Edwards' it would be 'better' (humour, grammar, inventiveness, etc.)than his. My main problem with it is that it is symptomatic of a wider case of people in influential and important positions writing articles that are just mind-numbingly awful, lazy and even mamouthly offensive to certain races, sexes, nations or beliefs.

    Having said that it is only fair (and if I hadn't gone on for so long already I would have said so in the article) to mention some great bits of UK journalism; Empire's criticism is normally accurate and always well-written ( and the other main UK film magazine Total Film isn't far behind ( Whilst I don't always agree with him, Mark Kermode is very knowledgeable (probably more so than anyone I've ever heard speak about film) and anyone still awake at this point would do well to check out his video blog at