Comment: It’s time these lazy attacks on Daily Mail film critic Chris Tookey came to an end

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The Daily Mail is not a newspaper for everyone. Some may disagree with a lot of the content it publishes, the crusades it fights, the opinions it gives space to, and the views is helps peddle. It also has a very large readership, publishes some of the best journalism in the country, contributes to a lively and interesting landscape of political and cultural debate, and, in my opinion, happens to be home to one of Britain’s most readable and consistently entertaining film critics, Christopher Tookey. Throughout his years working as a critic for the newspaper, Tookey has written hundreds of reviews and some have generated controversy. But Tookey’s writing on film has been subjected to an uninterrupted, mostly-internet based attack from bloggers and semi-professional journalists whose problem with him seems to stem from the fact that he writes for the Daily Mail.

Disliking a journalist simply because of the publication they write for is as absurd as it is naive. Of course, if the publication was a piece of extremist literature which backed, for example, fascism, Nazism, or Communism, then we would be in different territory. But the Daily Mail does not support any of these things. Like it or not, it is part of our culture and, like it or not, it is not an extreme publication. Some writers within its pages may raise opinions that are extreme and may well be offensive to some, but so does The Guardian (a paper many would regard as being at the opposite end of the political spectrum as the Daily Mail).

Anyway, back to Mr. Tookey. I am lucky enough to have been in contact with Christopher Tookey in the past and have found him to be a warm, kind, encouraging individual with an eager interest in cinema and those who write about it. I have read his reviews for many years, and have always admired his writing. It is considered, funny, thought-provoking and relevant. I write this article partly in response to a piece, billed as an open letter to the Daily Mail and their website Mail Online, which recently appeared on the independent film site The Cine Blog. The site is not without its merits (it rightly reprimanded Zack Snyder for his hateful and misogynist movie Sucker Punch), but on this occasion it embarrassed itself. This letter, though about Chris Tookey, chooses to refer to him merely as one of the Mail’s ‘journalists’ and launches an attack on his reviews for the paper. The article’s author Thomas Harris (who, I must stress, is not the bestselling American novelist of the same name) accuses Tookey of deliberately altering his reviews to ‘comply with your [the Daily Mail’s]political viewpoint’ and for lacking professionalism. This latter accusation is based on Tookey’s use of the term ‘art-house’ in his review of Park Chan-Wook’s film Stoker. It also says comments Tookey has made about the fact that Hollywood is turning its back on sex scenes (which it is) are assumptions made without evidence. This is provably incorrect: there is a lot of evidence to support this, and the story was reported in a variety of papers, including the Daily Mail, the Telegraph and the Independent.

As it happens, I completely disagree with Tookey’s general opinions on Stoker (click here for my five star review of the film), but I cannot see how the term ‘art-house’ is incorrect in this instance. Sure, the film was funded by a Hollywood company (Fox Searchlight), but the phrase art-house has undergone several renovations and renegotiations over the past couple of decades, and it is now generally used to describe content that is – or perhaps tries to be – non-mainstream or for a niche audience. This seems to fit Stoker quite nicely.

On the charge of biasing his writing so they fall in line with an alleged Daily Mail political mantra, this can be proved to be nonsense. For the sake of this argument, let us accept that the Daily Mail is racist, anti-gay, sexist, prudish and averse to anything which goes against the conservative norm. I’m not saying it actually is any of these things, but such condemnations have been hurled at it in the past, so let’s just go with it for now. Tookey is none of these. On the charge of racism, Tookey has been clearly opposed to racial discrimination and has levelled severe criticism to films that apparently support it. He gave a 1-star review to 2008’s Taken, labelling it ‘violent, racist, rubbish’. He hated The Hangover Part II’s ‘toe-curlingly racist view of the non-American world’. In terms of homophobia, Tookey has also highlighted what an ugly, undesirable trait it is. He skewered Eli Roth’s Hostel on such grounds and attacked laugh-free Sandler comedy I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry for revelling ‘in homophobic and racist stereotypes’. He is also pulls up American comedies for ‘crude, degrading, Hollywood sexism [Bridesmaids] and really went against the alleged Daily Mail political/cultural line with his rave review of ‘21st century masterpiece’ Black Swan (a film which featured lesbian sex, drugs, and could be considered ‘art-house’).

Predictably, Harris also resurrected that tired ghost, the Daily Mail’s review of Kick Ass. The review, which was penned by Tookey, became the subject of a highly personal internet hate-campaign which asked for Tookey’s firing, and accused him of being and practicing many things which he, to the best of my knowledge, is not and does not, ranging from normal variants of sexual behaviour (such as homosexuality) to the abnormal (paedophilia and bestiality).

It is curious that many of those who raised concern about Kick-Ass’s brand of pernicious violence and evil nastiness received hate-filled responses by fans. The late Roger Ebert received awful abuse from internet comments and bloggers, as did Financial Times critic Nigel Andrews. Even I (less-than national critic that I am), writing on this very website, received bizarre criticisms and accusations for doing and saying things I had not done or said. But nobody received as much hate as Tookey, who (in my opinion, correctly) concluded that this was, at least in part, because he wrote for the Daily Mail.

Whatever one feels about the Daily Mail – and I’m sure there are many reasoned, measured and legitimate arguments that put forward a damning case against it – I have a particular dislike for those who attempt to dismiss and, in some case, smear decent, honest journalists for simply contributing material to the huge range of writing that fills its pages. By all means, take issue with the opinions, offer different points of view in response. But closed-minded attacks on writers like Christopher Tookey, attacks that I’m not convinced would exists if he wrote for a different publication, are unhelpful, unprofessional and play into a kind of journalistic prejudice that weakens our country’s cultural dialogue and shut down valid debates.

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Second year BA Film & English Student. Watches too many films and enjoys good novels.

13 Comments

  1. avatar

    Good comment. I’ve been a fan of the Tookster’s reviews on reading his review of 2008’s Iron Man, the Marvel Studios debut starring Robert Downey Jr. and Gwyneth Paltrow AFTER I’d seen the movie in question. Tookey nailed every problem I had with the film myself so succinctly that purchasing the Daily Mail every Friday thereafter was a given. I’m glad he’s not given up reviewing movies even after I soon jacked in my Cineworld Unlimited subscription in protest at the sheer amount of rubbish Hollywood has been churning out!

  2. avatar
    Christopher Tookey on

    Thanks for this, Barnaby. When I wrote for the Sunday Telegraph over many years, I did not receive one piece of hate mail. Since moving to the Mail, my hate mail runs into the hundreds per year (or, in the case of Kick Ass, per week). It’s hard not to wonder if some of the correspondents don’t have mental health issues. It is particularly weird to be accused of views that I’ve never held, or would wish to hold.

    • avatar

      My issue is with factual errors in Chris Tookey’s reviews, for example in his review of The Hangover part 3 he says “Later, Stu murders a couple of dogs”. This does not happen, I have seen the film once and it was made very clear what happened to the dogs.

      I have no problem with his opinions and ratings, it’s just errors like the one i have mentioned that wind me up. Maybe he misunderstood or was not paying attention, but either way what he wrote is not true and is therefore a lie.

      It could be argued that it doesn’t effect the outcome or nature of the review, but to me it seems unprofessional to make such mistakes and makes me question his attitude to the film. I know everyone makes mistakes, but when they are made they should be owned up to and corrected. Will this happen? I doubt it.

  3. avatar

    Chris Tookey wrote about Dredd “the film is an ugly, monotonous glorification of extreme violence”. Nothing could be further from the truth. Dredd captured the essence of 2000ad, and Chris would know that had he ever given either the comic or the movie the time and attention they deserved. Everybody Is entitled to their opinion. But a opinion Is just that a opinion. He writes with a alooftness that offended me having only read one article. Comments like “I imagine Norwegian mass-killer Anders Behring Breivik would admire its philosophy. Beneath the stylish flippancy, it’s a fascistic bore.” to not make me like the man at all. I suggest that beneath Chris’s stylish flippancy he is a fantastic bore. Attacking truly creative people and attacking art is like painting over the Mona Lisa. He Is a scum bag.

  4. avatar

    As long as ultra violence exists In my world (which it does). I want it in my movies books and television.Maybe next time he can rent Pee Wee’s big adventure. It might be more suited to his cowardly sensibilities.

  5. avatar

    I love his arrogant reasoning too. People that hate me or disagree with me must be mental. No they just hate you and disagree with you. I am tempted to write a torrent of abuse but I really can’t be bothered it wont get published, and that Is the ultimate irony. A man who writes critiques for a living doesn’t stand up to criticism at all. This article Is basically saying Chris can attack anything he likes, but for gods sake don’t attack him back.

  6. avatar

    Saying that Chris you might get a bit shook by the scene where Pee-Wee upsets the biker gang. I don’t want you to have nightmares. Maybe you could draw some disgusting comparison between the peril Pee-Wee faces and Mark Bridger. Just a suggestion. I know you do enjoy a good child killer comparison. In your shitty reviews.

  7. avatar

    I dare you to respond. I’d love to know how you justify making jokes about mass murderers and child killers while taking the moral high ground.

  8. avatar

    I miss Chris Tookey! I’ve been reading and enjoying his reviews for years, much to my children’s annoyance if I didnt let them see a film he called a ‘TURKEY’ and I can’t believe he’s gone! gutted!!

  9. avatar

    Surprised the Mail has axed Tookey as he seemed to mirror the newspapers right wing views & often reviewed films favourably/unfavourably depending on their political stance. I would not expect him going to improve matters as I am sure the new man will simply follow the Mails editorial policy of denigration of all things liberal/left wing

  10. avatar

    Good article and glad to see that there are others who share my opinion on Tookey reviews.

    I have enjoyed Tookey’s reviews for the best part of 20 years and always looked forward to the Friday edition of The Mail to see what movies he had reviewed and recommended. I regularly found his ‘hit ratio’ and interpretation of the plot of a movie to match my opinion and would often inform what movies I prioritised for the future.

    I was surprised that after he left and I enquired on line for a reason, to be informed of a somewhat ‘Anti-Tookey” group of people. Whilst I often laugh at the ridiculous positions The Daily Mail newspaper has taken on some ‘political issues’ like immigration and gay equality to name but two, I never felt the movie reviews were ever pandering to a particular bias.

    I for one will miss the reviews and look forward to maybe reading future reviews in another medium.

    Good luck.

  11. avatar

    I live in Australia and first came across his Critics’ Film Guide in a bookshop in 1994. I bought it and devoured it. 10 years later I discovered movie-film-review.com and it became my favourite movie site. I would visit it regularly, as much as any site, for years. I will be very interested in following Chris’s online activity but neithe mfr nor his twitter account have registered activity for quite a while. Great piece Barnaby.

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