Director: David Scheinmann
Writers: Massimillano Durante, Carmelo Pennisi, David Scheinmann
Actors: Natascha McElhone, Brian Cox, Toby Stephens
Be honest with yourself now; “football” films are rubbish. There has never been a good one. Rarely are they ever actually about the sport or the people involved, most just use football as the context for the drama to unfold or to justify a characters motivation (“Fever pitch”, “Shaolin Soccer”, “Escape to Victory”, “Bend it like Beckham” etc.). Then there’s the idealised juvenile romanticism of the Hooligan genre, probably best left unspoken.
A case could be made for “Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait” (more art-house documentary than actual film), “The Damned United” (bloody close!) and “Looking for Eric” (ageing very badly). In truth the only time football has been portrayed on screen in all its glorious reality – with egos, mundanity, humiliation and glory all perfectly displayed – was in Ken Loaches superb “Kes”. It’s only one scene buried amidst all the working class ornithology, but it’s perfect. There’s no over sentimentalised, “seize the moment”, “believe in yourself” guff.
Where you can find that guff, and another addition to the canon of absolute toss football films, is in “Believe”. Set in 1984 in Manchester, Believe sees a retired Matt Busby, (played here by a tripled chinned Brian Cox) pick up the cause of a group of rag tag scrotes, coaching them to win the Manchester schools cup or something or other. Who cares?
It’s apparently based on a true story, though I doubt the “true” part extends to little more than that Matt Busby actually coached some kids in Manchester at some point. The rest of the film is a saccharine stew of bullshit, covering everything from Mancunian working class life to the Munich Air disaster, as written – Imagined! – by an affluent southerner (presumably) and two Italian sounding writers that I can’t find anything else out about (Bizarrely!).
You don’t need to know about or support Manchester United to watch this, although that’s presumably its audience. If anything it’s better that you don’t know United at all as you’ll just get annoyed very quickly. The scene where Busby, wanting to remain anonymous, approaches a working men’s club declaring “I can’t go in there, it’s a Man U pub”, particular grated for both its patronising tone and the school boy error in the dialogue, which any regular red will notice immediately and groan at.
Anyway, it’s time to play Northern Working class cliché bingo – See how many you can get. Natasha Mcelhone (doing her best substandard coronation street impression) plays the single mother of Georgie Gallagher. Terrace Streets. Rainy days. No pot to piss in etc. Georgie, a lovable cheeky scamp despite his roguish wallet stealing ways, just wants to play football! He’s got the skills, but his football loving dad is dead and his mum would rather he tried to pass the entrance exam for the local posh school rather than “Wasting your bloody time kicking that bloody ball about chuck”. Ah, the eternal battle between pesky low wage single parents wanting social mobility for their children and feral crime ridden dossers wasting away roaming the streets. If only they had someone to show them the error of their ways. Enter Matt Busby!
Matt, seemingly bored of the retired life, and getting old fast, still struggles to come to terms with his demons, specifically survivors guilt following the Munich Air Crash. It happened 26 years prior to 1984, and Matt had already won plenty, including the European cup, since the tragedy. But these random kids will complete his recuperation apparently. Rightio.
So he gets them all together and sets about coaching them – Down a back alley on a cobbled street with a grapefruit – Obviously! Eventually he pulls them together and they become a team, except for superstar Georgie. His mum just won’t let him go, especially when he won’t revise and just keeps stealing (for good reasons though – “To help the lads out!”). So his mum sends him to a private tutor. Bizarrely played by Toby Stephens, the tutor is a moustachioed classical music listening eccentric, studiously drilling Maths into his pupils. It’s meant to be comic relief, but its more “Operation Yew tree” if you ask me.
Anyway, throughout the film Georgie keeps turning up late to the teams games. The inevitable fallout comes and they stop passing to him. Busby even has to scream at them. He’s quickly chastised by his wife and everybody learns a lesson. The team grown and reach the final blah blah blah…I’m bored even explaining all this.
The story simply doesn’t hold up. It’s all over the place. Throughout, most people (The kids and their mothers) are ignorant of who Busby actually is, seeing him as a benevolent old man coaching kids (Operation Yew tree again?). This despite the earlier scene where he says he’ll be too easily recognised. Matt Busby is universally idolised in Manchester to this day. Everybody knows who he is, especially ten year football loving Man United fans.
The acting is so badly hammed up and second rate that it makes you wonder what Brian Cox and Natasha Mcelhone actually signed up to. The child actors you can forgive, but those two should really have known better, or at least secured themselves a fat pay cheque.
The whole film is just whoppingly trite and unoriginal. Take the soundtrack for example. It’s Manchester in the 1980s – I know, let’s play “Blue Monday” and the “Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want” and chuck in some Madness and Dead or Alive. Genius! That’ll give the film some authenticity, and not come across as dull or uninspired at all.
We’re lacking emotional resonance boys. Ok, how about when the ten years old win the cup final with a last minute free kick from Georgie, we show Busby getting teary eyed over a load of ghosts in United kits. Beautiful! The fact he comes across as a delusional old drunkard instead is irrelevant. It’s bloody emotional – Why are the audience all yawning instead of crying?
Avoid this film like the frigging plague. How it actually obtained a cinema release is baffling. It’s not a family film, in the sense that both parents and kids will be bored to tears. It’s not a film for United fans as it belittles and insults the clubs greatest manager. It’s not particularly well shot; In fact it’s very amateur in parts. It’s not a funny film. It’s not a topical film. It’s not artistic. I don’t understand how this film ever got made, let alone released.
Pick up a football, go outside and have some fun instead of wasting your time watching this utter shite!