Mike Bassett: England Manager Review
This summer’s World Cup will show us just how far the England football team has come. Under the guidance of Sven Goran Eriksson we now at least look like a professional outfit that can compete with the best of them. But cast your mind back a few years to the Graham Taylor years, when basically the England team were a laughing stock. A poor performance in Euro 92, followed by failing to qualify for USA 94 left us at an all-time low. As Graham Taylor had built his team around Carlton Palmer it was clear he was out of his depth at this level, and it all descended into the “turnip-head” ridiculing in the tabloid press. This then, is basically what Mike Bassett England Manager is lampooning. Bassett (Ricky Tomlinson) is the Norwich manager and has just guided his team to the League Cup. The current England manager has a heart attack and when the FA can find no one else to do the job, Bassett gets it. The movie then follows Bassett in a documentary style whilst he tries to qualify for the World Cup finals in Brazil. The team just about scrape their way to the finals (which is not giving a lot away as it wouldn’t have been much of a film if they didn’t) and there Bassett has to cope with a flop performance from his team as well as a hostile press, whilst building up for a “revenge” game with Argentina.
If you are looking for another film with similarities to this one, then looking at another recent football movie like Mean Machine may actually be a poor comparison. Instead it has more in common with This is Spinal Tap. Both are set out in a mock documentary style with the story being followed by means of an interviewer, in Tap it was Rob Reiner, here it is real life journalist and presenter Martin Bashir. Whereas Tap was a “rock”-umentary, perhaps this is a “socc”-umentary. But it could be argued that on this very subject it has been done before – for real. Graham Taylor was followed by the cameras for what was initially planned to be a story about England’s path to the '94 World Cup Finals. Instead it became the infamous Do I not like that plotting Taylor’s fall and England’s failure.
But what of Bassett as a comedy? Well, firstly let’s clear up one thing: it’s certainly not as good as Tap, but it is a funny and at times hilarious comedy. It obviously helps if you are a fan of football, as there are plenty of in-jokes here. Fortunately, it is football here, and not soccer; this film is quintessentially English and does not try to adapt itself for any other audience. The filmmakers know that this movie would not be understood by people in foreign markets (ie the USA) and so fortunately have not tried to make it as such. The script itself is pretty sharp, and captures the essence of just how bad things were with the England camp when they were at their worst.
Ricky Tomlinson in the title role really makes the movie. Granted he is playing himself as he so often does, but he portrays the old-fashioned English blazer wearing football manager perfectly. A good example is the scene where he goes mental at the team at half time after a dismal first half performance, recreating the sort of scenes we’ve seen before from the likes of Peter Reid and Barry Fry. As for the other characters, there are some funny moments from them, but it’s often the lampooning of real people that is the spark of the humour rather than the characters themselves, who can be a bit one-dimensional. There’s a psycho player (who keeps getting himself sent off but bizarrely never gets suspended), a “lovable” clown (prone to the odd tearful episode) and a not too bright superstar (who’s always on his mobile). It’s not exactly difficult to work out who these players are supposed to be. Actually, Harchester United seems to be the strongest team to fill the English squad, as many of the actors who play footballers on Sky One’s Dream Team are playing (different) footballers here. The hostile pack of press who follow Bassett and the England team around are led by Tommo Thompson, played by comedian Phill Jupitus. There are also some cameos from plenty of people playing themselves, including ITV football presenters Gabby Logan and Barry Venison, Keith Allen (organizing the team song) and two thirds of Atomic Kitten!
As this is a film in a documentary style, the direction is correspondingly free-form. As discussed in the extra material on this DVD there were hardly any completely choreographed scenes; extras were usually allowed to mill about naturally. During the match sequences a split-screen style is adopted in the fashion of the old style football movies like the 1966 retrospective Goal!. All this successfully generates the “real life” atmosphere that the filmmakers were intending.
Ultimately, the England team that Mike Bassett is lampooning makes the film somewhat out of date. Indeed, in the extra material writer Rob Sprackling mentions that the first version of the script had been written five years ago. But when we were really that bad, perhaps it would have been too painful, too treacherous to make a film such as this. Now that we can look forward with a bit more hope, perhaps this is a better time to laugh at things like this. And laugh you probably will do, as although this is not the funniest British comedy ever, it certainly raises plenty of laughs, especially if you get all the in-jokes. Even if you don’t, there are far worse ways of spending and hour and twenty minutes or so. Good fun.
Here’s something I haven’t had to say about a DVD for quite some time, so I think it's definitely worth highlighting: This is a new movie release and it’s presented in non-anamorphic widescreen. I can fully understand older re-issues being non-anamorphic, but I can see no excuse for new movies; I thought we had got beyond this some time ago. In reality, the picture quality is not too bad, as it is reasonably clear and well defined. But its lack of resolution is annoying, especially as the director mentions in his commentary how it was filmed on a new style of high definition digital video. And yes, the bad artefacting during the satellite link-up scenes is intentional!
A bit of an odd one to score, here. It’s a Dolby Digital 5.1 track, but for most of the time it sounds like everything is coming from the front centre. Then, during the match sequences and when there is a strong musical kick to the soundtrack, it really comes alive, with all the channels sounding clear and powerful. As it therefore “turns it on” when required it is worthy of a reasonable score.
The usual “pirate video” EiV packaging, complete with too many spoilers on the back of the box, leads us to a disc with the following extras:
There is a director’s commentary by Steve Barron. This is quite interesting and he talks about such things as operating on a very tight budget – the Norwich scenes were filmed in St Albans so they could get one more filming day in Brazil – and how fortunate they were to be actually able to film at Wembley, Lancaster Gate and the Bisham Abbey England training ground. He also talks about the free-form documentary style filming and how Ricky Tomlinson was often recorded using a throat mike (rather than boom) for a more authentic documentary style. This is a commentary that I found worth listening to.
The featurette is one of those raw “behind the scenes” pieces which has no titles or introductions, and merely features interviews with the cast and crew, and also a glimpse of some stunt footage filming. Worth a look, but is quite brief at just under nine minutes.
Following on from this are a selection of interviews. These are with director Steve Barron, writer Rob Sprackling and stars Ricky Tomlinson, Phiill Jupitus, Bradley Walsh and Amanda Redman. This section is, like the featurette, in a rough format, looking like interview “answers” aimed for a press kit and runs about 22 minutes in total. Highlights include Barron talking about the filming technique, Sprackling talking about the development of the movie script, and Tomlinson on his acting style. The low point is Phill Jupitus – a comedian who I usually like – feeling the need to end his section with a barrage of pointless four letter words. As an aside, Ricky Tomlinson mentions an American movie that he turned down a part in to be in this movie, but does not name it. It was in fact Spielberg’s Minority Report.
The deleted scenes section contains eight removed scenes and an alternative ending. Unfortunately there is no commentary here, but director Steve Barron does mention some of these – including the different ending – in the main commentary. Even though the film is quite short, most of these focus on peripheral characters and are as such fairly superfluous. Bassett visiting the last England manager in hospital is very funny however, and the “where are they now” version of the ending is also very good, although after listening to the main commentary I can fully understand why they went with the other version.
Finally, the theatrical trailer has appalling “hissy” sound quality and, complete with a cheesy voice-over, makes you think you are watching the trailer for a film from twenty years ago.
Not only are there no ROM features, but also the video section of the disc crashed my software player when I tried to watch it on my PC.
It’s incredible just how many films are “The best British film since Bridget Jones”, and this one is no different according to the usual Entertainment in Video blurb plastered over the disc box. It’s not that great, but it is an entertaining comedy, and it is genuinely hilarious at times. There are an acceptable number of extras for a film of this kind, though the lack of an anamorphic transfer is a major annoyance. For football fans especially this disc is well worth looking out.
Let’s just hope that I don’t have to rewrite this review in a couple of months to say how up-to-date and authentic the film really is…
Last updated: 15/07/2018 04:48:52