Mike Bassett: England Manager

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Movie Review by Kris Griffiths

Starring: Ricky Tomlinson, Amanda Redman, Phill Jupitus, Bradley Walsh

Director: Steve Barron

In the game of soccer, timing is everything: the striker must always time his runs perfectly, the defender must time his tackles perfectly, whilst the manager must always choose the right time to throw on his substitutes. The timing of this film’s release is the ultimate irony. MIKE BASSETT: ENGLAND MANAGER is a spoof documentary of a crap manager leading a crap national team on a crap run of results – usually a familiar state of affairs in this country. However, in the last few months we have seen a world-class manager leading a suddenly brilliant team on an excellent run of results, culminating in an historic 5-1 thrashing of the Germans. We live in a strange world at the moment.

The film’s fictional world is even stranger. After leading Norwich City to a cup final victory, Bassett (Ricky Tomlinson) finds himself appointed as England manager. His first appointments for the team are just as strange: for assistant manager he picks a dodgy second-hand car salesman, whilst his playing squad includes a violent nutter (caricaturing Vinny Jones) a skilful on-the-ball but boozy idiot off it (Paul Gascoine) and a striker that hasn’t scored a goal for 2 years (Andy Cole?). Of course, the shambles of a team go on a long losing streak against the lowly likes of Poland and Egypt, teams that even a sub-standard England team could stroll past. Bassett is amusingly berated by a hostile press fronted by Phil Jupitus, but due to a silly mathematical miracle England somehow make it through to the World Cup finals in Brazil where they continue to lose games until their make-or-break clash with Argentina. No prizes for guessing how England’s winning goal is scored. And from then on it’s all fairy-tale stuff as Bassett and his squad suddenly become national heroes after winning a couple of games. There are some clever cameos along the way from football legends Pele, Ronaldo and… Barry Venison.

This is another British comedy with some nice ideas but a bit short on laughs. An early chuckle is provided by the driver of the victory parade bus taking a wrong turn off Norwich High Street and ending up steaming down a dual carriageway. But from there on inwards the only real laughs ensue from classic English manager quotes projected at random points throughout the film (e.g. “I am a firm believer that if the opposing side scores one goal, then you have to score two goals to win the match.” – Howard Wilkinson)

There is an amusing scene towards the end where Bassett gets drunk and naked in a Brazilian hotel to shame the English even more, followed by the only piece of cheese in the film where he melodramatically confronts the livid press with a rousing rendition of a Rudyard Kipling poem before leading his team to victory. Tomlinson plays the role of crap manager perfectly, but comedy or not, the average Englishman’s credulity is stretched to the limit. The film is very much like one of England’s performances before their recent revival – a promising start that fizzles out by about half-time, and has everyone leaving at full-time entertained but a little bit disappointed.

3 out of 6 stars