I cannot imagine a British ‘Spotlight’

AS I’ve said before, one of the benefits of retirement is having the time to go to the cinema in the afternoon. Consequently, a film has to have rare appeal to persuade me out at night.

Spotlight was one of those films. The Current Mrs Feeney and I ventured out last night. The attraction is obvious for somebody who worked for more than 40 years in the newspaper industry. It tells the story of The Boston Globe newspaper’s investigation into child abuse by paedophile priests in the Massachusetts Catholic Church.

I liked the way the film was consciously undramatic. The story – and the scale of the abuse – unfolded slowly as the journalists went about their unglamorous tasks of testing allegations, checking facts, interviewing witnesses, and searching for collaborative evidence.

If anything, director Tom McCarthy moves the action forward at too slow a pace at some points. I (and TCMrsF, who also worked in the industry) was engrossed by the  scenes in the newsroom and editorial conferences. I suspect somebody less captivated by newspapers would have found things dragging at times.

As somebody who edited newspapers for more than 20 years, I gave a silent cheer when Liev Schrieber, as Globe editor Marty Baron, at one point says: “I think newspapers function at their best when they stand apart.” When a newspaper loses that desire – or staffing ability – to scrutinise and challenge, it becomes nothing more than a mouthpiece for whoever is providing it with suggested stories.

The film is a solid and sober telling of a shocking tale. I do not think it is able to bear the weight of some of the extravagant praise it has been given, but it is a welcome change to see journalists portrayed as people who contribute something positive to society.

Which makes me wonder if Britain would make such a film. I can think of British stories that would be good subjects.

There was the courageous Daily Mail campaign to bring the white murderers of black teenager Stephen Lawrence to face justice. On February 14 1997 the Daily Mail headline read: “Murderers: The Mail accuses these men of killing. If we are wrong, let them sue us.” That took considerable balls by Mail editor Paul Dacre. But to me it is inconceivable that any British film maker would contemplate making a movie that shows the Mail or Dacre in heroic mode.

For people on the Left of British politics, the newspaper and its editor are beyond redemption; and I suggest that just about everybody in the film industry in Britain sits comfortably on the Left.

Perhaps an even more striking comparison with the Massachusetts scandal is the investigation by Andrew Norfolk of The Times, revealing a confidential 2010 police report had warned thousands of child sex abuse crimes were being committed in the north of England by networks of Asian men. No action had been taken by those in authority. Subsequently, there have been arrests or prosecutions of gangs in more than ten cities and towns in the Midlands and North.

I find it hard to imagine British film makers feeling comfortable with the subject. And The Times is owned by Rupert Murdoch, another bete noir of the Left.

So let’s be grateful to the makers of Spotlight, and offer praise to the journalists who cast a light on the dark places.

Retired Bloke Rating: GOOD ***/5

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