After a brief blip in our patriotic spirit to discuss Ill Manors, we’re well and truly back on board. To prove it, here is a list of five (in our opinion) of the best British sports movie, to serve as good luck for the England football team this evening. With the Olympics coming to London this summer, and a great British sports movie arriving in cinema’s this weekend (Fast Girls), there’s never been a more apt time to take stock of the mixed bag of sports movies this country has produced.
We may not do backslapping like some other nations, but we know how to make triumph kind of depressing, with most of these entries taking a darker look at the world of sport and the men/women who play it. Take a look and tell us what we’ve missed.
5. Green Street (2005)
Instead of focusing on football itself, Green Street opts to put an American abroad (Elijah Wood) into the environment of football hooliganism, a topical subject in the noughties when news of British football fans, as always, was hitting the headlines. After being expelled from Harvard, Matt Buckner travels to London where his brother in law is part of the Green Street Elite, passionate fans of the West Ham football team. He’s soon absorbed into the violent world, and becomes a target when the others begin to suspect he might be a journalist.
4. Bend it Like Beckham (2002)
Back in the early 2000s, Bend it Like Beckham stood out mainly for its exploration of woman’s football, which has always been a victim of widespread sexism. It’ll also be remembered for launching the career of a now A-list Keira Knightly, who played a talented football player who recruits strict Muslim girl Jess (Parminder Nagra) into her successful team. The film tapped into the diversity of Britain and shed light on British Muslim culture, sportswomen, and female solidarity in a man’s world. It’s also loads of fun.
3. Chariots of Fire (1981)
In the face of a summer filled with sport, Chariots of Fire has emerged again in 2012, standing out as the ultimate British sports movie. Based on the true story of Olympic runners Eric Liddell and Harold Abrahams, Scottish and English, we flit between each man’s lives as they prepare for the competition. Harold is intent on overcoming racism against his Jewish heritage, while Eric wants to succeed as a testament to his Christian faith, and these opposing desires create the men’s compelling journeys throughout the film. Winner of four Academy Awards that year, Chariots of Fire is the most iconic film on this list.
2. The Damned United (2009)
For The Damned United, we take a look into the world of football management, as Michael Sheen portrays the slick and confident replacement manager for Leeds United, a man who has previously coached Derby Country to the League Championships with partner Peter Tyler (Timothy Spall) and must aggressively modify the style and methods of his new charges. His reputation is soon on the line as the Leeds players reject his insistence on them playing less violently, more attractively, and Sheen turns in a brilliant performance as a man who has been a fascinating figure in British football since the 1970s.
1. This Sporting Life (1963)
In the tradition of all great sports movies, This Sporting Life is less a film about sport than a character study of an interesting sportsman. Adapted from a David Storey novel, Richard Harris plays aspiring rugby player Frank, who soon becomes one of the most brutal and arrogant players on the field. We follow his descent into darkness, as an unhealthy love affair leaves him with nothing more than his career, even if he and his teammates are exploited for the fame and admiration they have acquired. The film is widely regarded as one of the best British films ever made, and was a harbinger of the ‘Angry Young Man’ trend in 1960s cinema.