9 out of 10
(Two Hollywood Studios having a "chat" with the British Film Industry)
"Is this gladiators or football?"
It is curious how quaint North Americans view of England iswith its supposed thatched cottages, funny guardsmen and cream teas. A close parallel of Baltimore, Manchester, Britain's second city, is a smoke-stack wasteland with suburbs like Mossside - a crack-riddled neighbourhood that has a murder rate comparable with Detroit and is only entered by Police and Ambulance alike in bullet proof jackets. And, as a working class, sport, soccer (or"football" as it is known there) is always greater in exact inverse proportion to a city's economic success, making the city home to some of the most famous and richest clubs in Britain: Manchester City and Manchester United.
Growing up in this wasteland is a little kid called Jimmy Grimble (Lewis McKenzie). The son of a single mother (Gina McKee) who is dating Johnny Two Dogs (Ben Miller), an uncaring lowlife Kung fu clown and local thug who thinks more of his Harley Davidson than him. With Harry (Ray Winstone), the only man who cared about he and his mother, turning out to be just someone two-timing on his real wife, it would seem as it life could not be worse, but it fact it is many times so. Attending Greenock, a sadly realistic nightmare of a school, Jimmy is the victim of constant beatings by a school gang. For this is a film that is as much about the savagry of the school bullying that plagues British school as it is football. As a victim of it myself, it paints an all too realistic picture of this thuggery, as he is repeatedly set upon and beaten, his school bag urinated upon and $250 worth of his costly school kit openly stolen. His life turned into utter hell as it follows his innermost thoughts, wondering even how to sneak into school without being beaten. For this is not a minor issue, but one that leaves a quarter of the population living in hopeless misery and, with a string of suicides clearly on record yearly, bullying is a subject that psychiatrists have shown destroys people not only at school but also in future life.
With a dream to become a footballer, Jimmy has natural talent, but suffers from "performance anxiety" making him rubbish when anyone is watching him play. Joining the school team where even the goalkeeper is already a professional pickpocket and credit card fraudster, he discovers that bullying is not just restricted to school kids. The school staff themselves are being manipulated. Poor as church mice, the school's only chance for a sports hall is the potential backing of a greedy fat local businessman (Jim Henshaw) who himself was once a school bully. Openly referring to the headmaster as "Sniveller", his son is the sadistic "Gorgeous Gordon" (Bobby Power), leader of the school gang and who personally urinated on Jimmy's kit and is merely offering cash to lever the school into showcasing his son in the school team in the hope to see him being selected by the Soccer scouts. Despite having himself once been a top flight professional football, the head of the school's sport (Robert Carlyle) finds himself constantly overruled by the school governors and his job endangered unless Gordon is allowed to be king of the castle, to the point of treating both teacher and Grimble as figures of fun. Despite knowing the cruelty being handed out to Jimmy, the teacher is past caring. Disillusioned by his past, he waves away any hope of support in the future, stating "Once you've done something like that it takes the sunlight off everything, it puts it in the shade."
In a city as violent as Manchester, when Greenock's team meets Wreckingham School's, it's not sportsmanship they find, but all out war. Backed by Frankie Goes To Hollywood's "Two Tribes," even the hunters become the hunted as the school bullies find themselves on the receiving end of a a sharp beating in a true twist of irony. In the midst of this ocean of grief come two events that are to provide. Firstly, he meets an old homeless woman who lives in a derelict house like a Shakespearian hag. She steps forward to give him a pair of "magic boots" that can never lose. Like some messiahanic figure, the true identity of "Robbie Brewer" who owned them is a mytery Jimmy cannot solve. Secondly, a new girl at the school takes a liking to him. Known as "Vampire," Sara (Samina Ghardie, better known as Maria Sutherland from Coronation Street) is a self-defence expert who dreams of being a "pugalist" or boxer.
With Broadway Toni Award Winner Jane Lapotaire
as the old homeless woman and Robert Carlyle, better known as Begbie
from "Trainspotting" and Renard from "The World Is Not
Enough" as the only recognisable names in North America, makers
Pathe Film Fund took an absolute bath on a film that certainly deserved
to be seen. With the sharp imagery, such as the blind man selling programmes
at the Manchester City stadium, a homeless person frozen to death in
the snow and the monologues by Jimmy's girlfriend in the cemetary, it
provides a powerful imagery of Britain's rundown inner cities and lays
bare the double standard of British education. If one is bad academically
the resources are always given to have them catch up, whereas those
who are not on the sports team are not given the support to do well
in sport, leaving them standing on the sidelines and never improving.
As a result, those good at sports, frequently including the school bullies
receive all the help schools can give and those are viewed as geeks
receive diddly squat. Just what sort of a country does this create?
To paraphrase an old English maxim, "School is a training for life.
Life is unfair, so if school is unfair its the reason why life is."
Student deserve better and likewise, so does writer/director John Hays's
Film Critic:Robert L Thompsett
Film Critic:Robert L Thompsett