Mark Kermode’s Secrets of Cinema Series 2 review: a wonderful dive into the movies

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Mark Kermode returns for the second series of his entertaining and insightful Secrets Of Cinema show, this time delving into the art of the superhero movie, British history on screen and spies on film.

 In episode one of Mark Kermode’s Secrets of Cinema's second three-episode series, the good doctor explores the film juggernaut that is the superhero movie. He explains how superhero films have notably been at their most popular during times of hardship and civil unrest, first at their conception during the Great Depression and later with a resurgence around the time of the 2008 financial crash.

Well, call Kermode and his team of collaborators – Kim Newman, Jon Das, Nick Freand Jones – a superhero gang of their own, because just when we needed saving from the noise of the daily news, he’s here with a warm blanket to sweep us away to a world of fun, nostalgia and pure film fanaticism.

Series two of Mark Kermode’s Secrets Of Cinema features three hour-long weekly episodes airing on BBC Four from Thursday 19th March, and it’s a pleasure to report that the episodes meet the high calibre of the first series (and subsequent specials). Covering superheroes, British history and spy movies, each episode bursts at the seams with illuminating detail into the history of the genre, its common conventions and its inevitable thematic overlap with other film movements.

The first episode sees Kermode explore what has made the superhero film one of the most popular genres of modern times. He charts the genre’s evolution from the kitsch “low budget fisticuffs” of early film iterations of comic book heroes to the big-budget high-grossing box office smashes that are enjoyed by today’s audiences. Kermode looks at the major role the Marvel Cinematic Universe has played in the way people watch superhero films and addresses the recent backlash against superhero films from big names in the industry, from Martin Scorsese, to Francis Ford Coppola, to Ken Loach.

The sheer amount of material in episode two would surely have posed a huge challenge for the show’s writers, KimNewman, John Das and Kermode himself. All of British history, as depicted by film of all periods since the birth of cinema, is a pretty heavy undertaking for an hour-long show. It’s credit to the writing and production team, then, that the episode doesn’t feel overloaded with film clips or overly narrated in the slightest. We’re invited to join Kermode on a chronological journey through British history as seen on film, from the Romans and the Dark Ages to the 20th Century, while enjoying some of the myth-inspired depictions of history, historical comedies the likes of Carry on Cleo and Monty Python and the Holy Grail and some “howling inaccuracies” in historical movies that only sometimes come complete with traumatising regional accents.

Episode three takes a look at another time-honoured film favourite: the spy movie. Kermode presents us with the suggestion that we’re drawn to the figure of the spy because they appear to sit outside of the moral black and white of other characters and other genres. Spies exist in the grey spaces in between; in the shadows… and arguably the most infamous spy of them all hails from this sceptred isle. James Bond and the influence of the Bond franchise is considered in great detail, while Kermode also charts the shifting roles of women in spy films, from the days when women were pretty little prizes with outrageous double entendre names to recent times, when Miss Moneypenny picks up a gun and heads into the field too.

Mark Kermode’s Secrets Of Cinema is a sharp and succinctly written show which entertainingly immerses novices and film connoisseurs alike in the fundamentals of film. From sound, to framing, to cinematography, Secrets Of Cinema is an entertaining introduction into the world of film as text: as something that can be read, analysed and enjoyed all the more for it. That said, its accessible writing never makes you feel like you’re in the middle of a dense lecture, and the show can equally be enjoyed for the nostalgia of seeing all your old favourites pop up on screen. It’s truly a love song to the moving picture.

With such a wealth of film knowledge, you feel you are in safe hands with Kermode. Though he speaks of a “post-truth world”, it feels as though Kermode is offering film, now more than ever, as the truth we’re all looking for. The antidote. The reassuring voice that says “everything will be okay in the end”. Here’s hoping. Secrets Of Cinema series 2 is a smashing piece of work, whichever way the planet goes.

Mark Kermode’s Secrets Of Cinema begins on BBC Four on Thursday 19th March.

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