Film review: Believe

While the blockbusters are dominating the summer box office, it would be all too easy to overlook the lower budget films on offer.  Which means that film makers have to be just a bit more imaginative when it comes to attracting an audience.  Take Believe, for example, which is released this Friday, 25 July.

It’ll get decent distribution in cinemas but, so that it reaches a wider audience, it also launches on the same day on Sky Movies.  And, from the day after, it’s available on demand.  All subscribers will need after that is a rainy Sunday afternoon to sit down in front of this unassuming piece of football fantasy.

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Inspired by the football legend Sir Matt Busby (played by Brian Cox), this sees the Manchester United manager in retirement and finding it less than exciting, despite the occasional visit to the races. When his wallet is lifted by a young tearaway, he tracks down the lad, Georgie (Jack Smith), only to discover that he’s a talented young footballer.  The two strike a deal: Sir Matt won’t tell the police about the theft, as long as Georgie and his football crazy friends allow him to coach them into a team so they can take part in an under-12s tournament.

After all the World Cup razzamatazz, it’s refreshing to see football being brought back to its roots, something involving the entire community, whether as part of a team or, just as importantly, standing on the touchline cheering for all they’re worth.  Once he’d retired from Manchester United, Busby genuinely supported local teams, youth teams in particular, although his particular story is totally fictional.

While it’s essentially soft-hearted, Believe is saved from crossing over the line into sentimentality by a tragic piece of football history.  The Munich air disaster took place in 1958, when Manchester United was on the up because of its youthful team, nick-named the Busby Babes.  When their plane crashed in the snow, it killed 23 people, including a number of the Babes, and Busby’s own injuries were so severe that he was given the last rites twice.  Those memories haunt him throughout the film, even though it’s set over 25 years later.  Sometimes we actually see the results of the crash – Sir Matt still strapped into his seat among the wreckage of the plane: other times we just see those memories in his eyes.

The ghosts of the Busby Babes do put in an appearance, on a misty football pitch towards the end of the film.  The echo back to Kevin Costner’s baseball pic, Field Of Dreams, is loud and clear but Believe doesn’t have a tagline like “if you build it, they will come.”  It does, however, have its title – which is all it needs because that’s essentially is what the film is all about.

 

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The film’s great strength is its cast, especially the older members, such as Cox, Anne Reid and Natascha McElhone.  Cox is excellent as Busby, rarely smiling, haunted by his memories of Munich still full of love for the beautiful game and his wife, Jean, played by Anne Reid.  Their scenes together have the tenderness of two people who’ve known and loved each other for years, through the good times and bad.  She knows that those memories have never gone away and that there’s nothing she can do to stop them, much as she wants to.

Natascha McElhone plays Erica, Georgie’s mother, struggling to cope on her own with her intelligent, high-spirited son and steering him into grammar school.  At the same time, she’s desperately trying to deal with her grief for her late husband, killed in a car crash.  Though they never meet in the film, you sense that she and Jean Busby would have had a lot in common.  Instead, the friendship develops between her son and Sir Matt.

My rating is 6/10.  With its belief in the power of sport to bring people together, redemption and family, Believe unashamedly wears its heart on its sleeve.  It’s a pleasant enough hour and a half for aspiring footballers, like the ones in the film, and for older members of the family who remember the history behind it.

Believe, certificate PG, is released in cinemas and on Sky Movies on Friday, 25 July 2014.

 

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