Film 2011 began last week ahead of its 40th anniversary in November. But hiring Claudia Winkleman may prompt producers to yell 'cut' soon.
Just as you contemplate heading off to bed, the vibrant opening notes of I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free begin to play on the television (providing you’ve got BBC1 on) and the warmth of Film 2011 lures you back on to the sofa.
But after the credits and the catchy music there she is. Television critics dip their ink in vitriol while viewers either utter expletives or tweet their fury (or both) and ask, over and over again: ‘What the hell is she doing presenting this?’
She is Claudia Winkleman. She is ubiquitous on the box and on the airwaves despite an overwhelming consensus that she should never be beamed into any sane household. Claudia’s like Mr Burns when he wants his beloved bear Bobo back off Maggie Simpson, reverting to hijacking every television station in order to compel dad Homer to make his daughter’s decision for her.
The gripe with the BBCs choice in opting for Winkleman as host isn’t owed to a vacuous personality, unlike Robbie Savage’s employment as a football pundit. She is a knowledgeable film buff who is married to a successful producer (Kris Thykier’s credits include Stardust, Harry Brown, Kick Ass and The Debt) and she exemplifies her erudition modestly alongside the Guardian’s Danny Leigh every week.
Her weakness lies in her unhinged presenting skills and loquaciousness. Leigh will coherently comment on the latest releases but even though Claudia’s out of shot, you can feel her urge to interject and talk until the producer yells ‘cut’. When she takes her cue, the chances of her uttering the word ‘love’ three times are 100 per cent. Claudia loves everything that when she ostensibly doesn’t love something, her enthusiasm puts a positive spin on it which ironically champions the film.
Kermode's an infinitely preferable alternative to Winkleman, who seems physically incapable of offering a polemic.
The Film Programme’s format under Jonathan Ross and Barry Norman was cautious but informative, yet when the former upped sticks for ITV the BBC viewed it as an opportunity to initiate an overhaul which, to a degree, has been successful. Guest critics Chris Hewitt, Robbie Collin and the dishy yet eloquent Antonia Quirke all make contributory stints in their own inimitable way to give the show more diversity on film matters.
But these are merely pleasant side orders from the unappetising main course of Claudia. Quirke in particular has an impressive command when fronting her segments and her amiable and measured style is a superior alternative to Winkleman’s hysterics. Although the Beeb are evidently under the impression that her exuberance stimulates night owls, it is likelier to impel one to switch off and hit the hay instead.
Winkleman is, hearteningly, passionate about film, but it’s to such deluded proportions that her idealism is having a reverse effect when a realist would publicise the industry’s current malaise. After it was announced that Ross was stepping down last year, her name wasn’t even touted as a possible successor because, frankly, nobody valued her as a credible option. Names veered from the obvious (Mark Kermode), to dark horses (Jason Solomons), to the unforeseeable (Kim Newman), with support for said obvious vociferously partisan.
However Kermode revealed on his 5 Live Friday afternoon movie show with Simon Mayo that, ‘I'm not doing Film 2010. I've never been doing Film 2010. They've never approached me, they've never asked me about it, nor indeed would they - not that I ever expected them to.’ He then joked ‘I don’t do moderation!’
Neither does Claudia Winkleman. The caveat the BBC had with Kermode is that he shows no restraint in specifying just how 'poisonously bad' some films are nowadays, while he retains a monopoly on film for the corporation as he’s also a regular on The Culture Show. Yet the essence of a critic is to criticise, and Winkleman seems physically incapable of offering a polemic. Fans of Kermode’s critiques know how absorbing it is when he rants rather than praises a film, and although that is a pessimistic outlook on the industry, it is nevertheless an accurate one. By having Winkleman front their production the BBC are unwitting allies of shallow film producers whereas with Kermode, or even the cheery yet acerbic Solomons, they would almost certainly be the nouveau bête noire.
Perhaps smarting from accusations at their conservativeness, the Beeb couldn’t risk the wrath of the feminists after two males had held the film post for almost four decades. But gender isn’t the issue, it’s quality. Like Top of the Pops five years ago, another flagship BBC programme, which is 40-years-old next month, risks sliding out of existence.
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