Dir: Steve Barron. UK. 2001. 89 mins
The British passion for football has never quite translated into an appetite for football films. When Saturday Comes (1995) failed to make much of an impression and A Shot At Glory (2000) is only just limping into a limited release two years after its production. Mockumentary Mike Bassett England Manager has better prospects than most because it is a comedy but the screenplay fails to make the most of the rich possibilities in a soccer world Spinal Tap. The ebullient presence of much loved television star Ricky Tomlinson should encourage a decent opening followed by a fast fade and reasonable prospects in ancillary domestic markets. The very parochial nature of the material suggests that few away fixtures are likely.
Returning to an era before the success of current manager Sven-Goran Eriksson, Mike Bassett broadly satirises the bumbling efforts of an England team noted more for its enthusiasm than its world class talent. When the England manager is felled by a near fatal heart attack, the search for a replacement draws a blank. Nobody is willing to accept the poisoned chalice of leading the national squad through the last three fixtures of the World Cup qualifying rounds. In desperation, lowly Norwich manager Mike Bassett (Tomlinson) is offered the position and accepts. Real-life TV journalist Martin Bashir follows his every move as he encounters wayward players, scornful reporters and eventually disgraces himself with a drunken striptease in a Brazilian bar.
All the familiar fixtures of English football are here from a psychotic hard man in the Vinnie Jones tradition to a cry baby reprobate that could just have been inspired by Paul Gascoigne. Fans of the game will catch all the references and appreciate the humour although the film does little to attract a wider audience. The jokes are fairly obvious and the approach is half-hearted, as if the writers had too much affection for the game to really let rip. Malapropisms provide a good deal of the fun and the funniest item of all is the intertitles regurgitating logic-defying quotes from former, real life England managers.
Director Steve Barron takes a conventional mockumentary approach, mixing fly on the wall moments with deadpan interviews in which characters are defined and condemned by their own inane utterances. 'He was like a father figure to me,' says Bassett fondly recalling his late father. 'He's big fan of Kipling,' says Bassett's wife Karine (Redman). ' The poet not the cake man.'
Even at a relatively short running time, the film feels padded and might well have worked more effectively as a tightly focused hour-long television special. Tomlinson keeps it afloat with his sure comic touch and even manages to squeeze a hint of pathos from the character as Bassett becomes the most hated man in England. Although she brings a dry humour to her few scenes, Sexy Beast's Amanda Redman is wasted in the role of Bassett's wife. Phil Jupitus has a few bright moments as a jaundiced news reporter and there's a very amusing cameo from football legend Pele.
Prod co: Hallmark Entertainment Film Productions, Film Council
UK dist: Entertainment Film Distributors
Prods: Neil Peplow, Steve Barron
Exec prods: Robert Halmi Sr, Robert Jones, Nigel Green, Luc Roeg, Charles Finch
Scr: JRN Smith, Rob Sprackling
Cinematography: Mike Eley
Prod des: John Reid
Ed: Colin Green
Music: Antony Genn, Duncan Mackay, Mark Neary
Main cast: Ricky Tomlinson, Bradley Walsh, Amanda Redman, Martin Bashir, Philip Jackson, Phil Jupitus, Pele.