Magazine article The Spectator

Stick to Making Your Schmaltzy Films, Mr Curtis

Magazine article The Spectator

Stick to Making Your Schmaltzy Films, Mr Curtis

Article excerpt

Richard Curtis's films - rose-tinted, upper-middle-class parodies of modern Britain - are bad enough, says Stephen Pollard. But his politics are even worse

There are few film-makers whose name instantly conjures up a style, an atmosphere, a set of recognisable characters, even a plot. Richard Curtis is one of them. From Four Weddings and a Funeral and Notting Hill to Love Actually and Bridget Jones's Diary, the label 'Richard Curtis' on a film tells you straightaway pretty much all you need to know.

For myself, I'd rather boil my eyeballs than spend another second of my life being sucked in to his film-making-by-numbers Disney-Britain. Curtisland might be framed as a rose-tinted, upper-middle-class paradise where the men are all Hugh Grant and the women look like Julia Roberts, Renee Zellweger and Kristin Scott-Thomas, but to me it is a dystopian nightmare worse even than A Clockwork Orange. Clearly, however, I'm not the audience for whom Mr Curtis writes his films and, annoying as I find them, it's a free country. Each to their own.

Would, however, that the man himself were as laissez-faire in his own attitudes.

Richard Curtis is not simply the writer and director of some of the most self-satisfied films ever made. He is also, far more significantly, a political agitator of the most dangerous type; a man whose agenda is all the more pernicious for being promoted using the very techniques which he has perfected in his films. He is, if you like, a Leni Riefenstahl for the soggy left - a film-maker who has learned, and relentlessly exploits, every available trick for planting his message in the minds of his audience.

It's been difficult in recent days to miss his latest work, on behalf of the 'Robin Hood Tax' scheme. 'A tiny tax on bankers that would raise billions to tackle poverty and climate change, at home and abroad', is how the umbrella organisation behind the campaign described its scheme. 'By taking an average of 0.05% from speculative banking transactions, hundreds of billions of pounds would be raised every year. That's easily enough to stop cuts in crucial public services in the UK, and to help fight global poverty and climate change.'

With slogans such as: 'This is the first tax you'll be in favour of' and 'Small change for the banks, huge changes for the world', the advertisements have been designed to lead people to the website, robinhoodtax. org. uk, where they can sign a petition demanding its implementation. The campaign seems to be working: on Monday, Welsh Secretary Peter Hain gave it his backing.

The centrepiece of the effort is a short Richard Curtis film. It's a three-minute masterpiece of its kind, with his regular collaborator Bill Nighy playing a smug, patrician banker who grows ever more unsettled and obfuscatory as he is quizzed about the impact of the tax, making it obvious with every passing second that only greed and self-interest could possibly lie behind any objections to the plan. This is a familiar conceit, and one that Curtis has employed before.

Curtis's entree into political propagandising was in founding Comic Relief in 1985.

It's difficult to think of a charity that is said to have raised over £600 million, and whose vision is 'a just world free from poverty', as anything other than a good thing, and some may bridle at my description of it as an organisation propagandising for a political aim. Comic Relief has clearly done much that is admirable, but the problem lies with the bigger picture - the definition of the 'just world' that Mr Curtis seeks, and how he and the organisations whose agendas he pushes plan for us to get there. …

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