A film based on the noble sport of cricket is a rarity indeed, although strangely enough there is little in the way of action and more on the games rules and etiquette. If you want more in the way of cricketing action then the Bollywood movie "Lagaan" does a pretty good job. Despite the lack of action on the hallowed turf of the Oval this is still a very good film. It was directed by Anthony Asquith the son of the ex British Prime Minister Herbert Asquith. The film was also greatly admired by another British Prime Minister Harold Wilson. The screenplay was by Terence Rattigan with whom Asquith collaborated with on "The Way to the Stars" and "The Winslow Boy", both very good films.
The story concerns an ageing England hero played by Jack Warner about to play his last innings in test cricket. It happens to be against the old adversary Australia in the last test of an Ashes series. Much as the beloved Freddie Flintoff will be doing in the series that is currently being fought out as I make this review. As any cricket fan will tell you, this is the one that matters. It is a gladatorial combat with a history that goes back to the Victorian era. No quarter is given by either team. Our hero aware that this will be his last game is eager for his son to see him play, but his son is more interested in poetry and arranges to see a famous poet played by Robert Morley on the day his father will be batting. This stupid boy is thankfully shown the error of his ways by the cricket mad Morley and we head to a happy ending. It is comprehensively shown that cricket does of course matter.
The film will be considered very quaint by some who watch it now. It is amusing to see our hero pop down his local the night before this important test match, and ever the professional order a lemonade. He is amazingly not mobbed by adoring fans. It was brought home to me just how much more approachable were the sporting heroes of those days. Credulity was stretched a bit with the casting of Warner in the main role. Even in an ageing role he was perhaps a little too old. His pipe smoking and kindly demeanour reminded one of "Dixon of Dock Green", and gave the impression he was rehearsing for a role in "Dads Army". Not the sort of batsman you would trust for a quick single! The film is given a bit of authenticity and period feel by the cameo appearances of some of the games legends. Len Hutton, Denis Compton, Alec Bedser, Godfrey Evans, Jim Laker and Cyril Washbrook complete a cricketing hall of fame. Even the wonderful velvet voice of the famous and greatly missed commentator John Arlott is heard to add further credence.
The film is a loving glimpse back to a time before sport was spoilt by the vast sums of money that was later poured into it, and when modern sporting heroes are worshipped like false idols. In those days they played for pride and the sheer joy of competitive sport. In the destruction of such innocence we have lost a lot. Highly recommended viewing, especially to lovers of the glorious game.