Shooting for Socrates
Charming comedy which sees a community unite over their love of football
James Erskine's endearing film may play out against the tumultuous backdrop of mid-80s Northern Ireland, but its focus is the real-life journey of the national football team to the 1986 World Cup finals in Mexico, where they face the might of Brazil, and star player Sócrates de Souza, in a nerve-wracking decider.
While the narrative makes some astute observations about the sheer effort of living a normal life in the unrelenting bombast of the Troubles – explosions blast as people sleep, helicopter search lights illuminate behaviour both criminal and mundane - the strength of the film lies in Erskine's subtle approach. His emphasis is not on the power of civil unrest to tear communities apart, but instead on the strength of spirit that can pull them together. Through the sweat, tears and dedication of the team, their endlessly optimistic, and opportunistic, manager Billy Bingham (John Hannah) and the legions of fans back home, including football mad youngster Tommy (Art Parkinson), we see how a love of football can be as transformative as religious faith, with fans on both sides of the divide united in their devout belief that their team can do the unthinkable and lift the cup for their country.
Of course, anyone with a knowledge of football will know the fate of the final whistle, but that does nothing to diminish the enjoyment of watching this colourful group of men strive for a glory they know is much bigger than themselves. As Sócrates philosophises, 'Beauty comes first. Victory is secondary. What matters is joy,' and the film certainly subscribes to that upbeat doctrine. Add in its light-hearted tone, keen eye for authentic period detail and great performances – a particular highlight being Conleth Hill as the hugely entertaining TV commentator Jackie Fullerton – and it makes for a charming celebration of the beautiful game.
Selected release from Fri 5 Jun.