Marvellous; Your Home in their Hands review – two Neil Baldwins meet real Lou Macari and real Gary Lineker

Toby Jones gives a lovely, very human, performance in Peter Bowker’s film of Neil Baldwin’s life story. If this film were a body part, it would be a heart, and a big one

I wonder if Ricky Gervais saw Marvellous (BBC2). The creator of Derek might have learned something from Toby Jones. You don’t need to ham it up, dart your eyes all over the place, hang your head to one side and your mouth open. Sometimes less is more.

I suppose it helps Jones that the person he is playing - Neil Baldwin - is a real one, and around, and he has a life model to work with. He’s not just around, but sometimes he is on screen with him, too. Yes, the real Neil Baldwin joins the pretend Neil Baldwin in his own story – like here, sitting together on a bench outside the student union at Keele University. “When you first came to Keele, were you nervous?” asks pretend Neil Baldwin. “I’m never nervous,” replies real Neil.

It’s reassuring for the viewer, to see Jones checking things with the man he’s playing, and to see that he has not just Baldwin’s blessing but also his affection, too. They look like they get along fine.

Inspired by an article in the Guardian, Peter Bowker’s film is Neil Baldwin’s life story, a story that somehow manages to be both ordinary and extraordinary. Baldwin - whose difficulties are perceived by others, not by him - loses his job as a clown, but gets a new one, working for Stoke City manager Lou Macari, as kit man/sort of mascot. And he gets another (unofficial) job, as a sort of student liaison officer at Keele Uni. Well, he’s more like just a friend of the students, really. Neil (or Nello, when he’s being a clown) has a lot of friends - students, football managers, players, referees, fans, vicars, bishops, archbishops, celebrities, politicians, chaffinches. He gets through life by asking for things, and because people like Neil.

Sound sentimental? Well, it is. The only prejudice Neil faces in the film are from one nasty ringmaster, and there’s a solitary “mong” from an unreconstructed footballer (didn’t know you played for Stoke pre-The Office, Ricky). The only other downer is the death of Neil’s mum. Otherwise, Marvellous is what its subject would probably describe as “a very nice film”. If it were a body part, it would be a heart, and a big one. Drink? Mug of tea, milk two sugars, saccharin even. Ooh, and that church choir, with all the ukuleles, strumming away at their heartstrings, acting like a kind of chorus? It got a bit much for me.

But Marvellous gets away with its sentimentality, because of the interesting way it’s put together, like a scrapbook of his life, and with real characters dropping in from time to time, not just real Neil but real Lou Macari and real Gary Lineker. I asked @GaryLineker if that scene (helping to recruit for the Neil Baldwin Football Team) actually happened but he never replied. It doesn’t really matter if it happened or not, that the line between reality and fiction in some of the detail is a blurred one. But still, rude man.

Marvellous also works because it’s funny (love all the dressing up, and the thousands of Potters fans on the terraces singing – to the tune of You’re Not Singing Any More (or Rhondda Valley, if you prefer) – What The Fucking Hell Is That, when Neil makes his debut on the touchline. And it’s moving, when Neil’s mum dies. Not at the home, when he’s told about it, and seems not to properly take it in, but later alone (very alone), sitting in his room, when the reality sinks in, his bottom lip quivers, and he sobs, almost silently.

That’s the final reason why Marvellous works: Toby Jones’s portrayal. Can this really be the same man who was, so convincingly, Truman Capote? It’s a lovely, very human, performance. And the Potters fans may have to add a new song to their repertoire (to the tune of There’s Only One Neil Baldwin): “There’s Only Two Neil Baldwins, Two Neil Baaaaaldwins, There’s Only Two Neil Baldwins…”

How does Your Home in their Hands (BBC1) work then? Two unimaginative couples, who can’t decide how to do up their homes, foolishly hand over the keys. Then they bring in amateur interior designers – clearly chosen for the utter wrongness of their ideas and their potential for the most amount damage (physical, emotional) to their victims. Oh, and they put two designers, with very different styles, into each house, so there’s conflict within the process as well as at the end. By which time everyone is in tears. I see. Quite interesting then, I think.


Sam Wollaston

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
The Secret Agent review – worryingly one-dimensional
So much is lost from Conrad’s strange, complex and deeply ironic novel. This adaptation reduces it to a psychological thriller – and proves the curse of TV

Stephen Moss

18, Jul, 2016 @6:02 AM

Article image
Capital review – a complicated and brilliant portrait of London life
The eponymous novel by John Lanchester is transported to an all-too-recognisable suburban street, unfolding the lives of its complex residents, where somebody wants what they have

Sam Wollaston

24, Nov, 2015 @10:00 PM

Article image
TV review: Vexed; Restoration Home

John Crace: The new series of this cop drama is almost guaranteed to make you watch the Olympics instead

John Crace

01, Aug, 2012 @9:00 PM

Article image
TV review: The Girl; Doors Open
Beauty and the beastly Hitchcock: a peerless study of sexual obsession, writes John Crace

John Crace

26, Dec, 2012 @11:00 PM

Article image
Peaky Blinders; Scrotal Recall; Detectorists review
Tim Dowling: Just when it seemed Peaky Blinders couldn’t get any more menacing, Tom Hardy turned up

Tim Dowling

10, Oct, 2014 @5:00 AM

Article image
Danny Boy review – the tremendous Toby Jones deserves all the awards
This excellent, eye-opening drama about the Iraq war probes the line between military violence and unlawful killing. Essential viewing

Ellen E Jones

12, May, 2021 @9:25 PM

Article image
Detectorists Christmas Special review – the best thing you will watch all festive period
This special isn’t quite as perfect as the original, but revisiting Mackenzie Crook and Toby Jones’s precious sitcom is pure pleasure. It beats all other yuletide TV hands down

Jack Seale

26, Dec, 2022 @10:15 PM

Article image
Tripped review – this young-adult sci-fi comedy is a nearly funny compromise
Despite a great concept – man about to abandon his old mate for marriage is sucked down a multidimensional portal with him – this was less than the sum of its parts

Julia Raeside

09, Dec, 2015 @7:30 AM

Article image
Brief Encounters review – dildo-wielding Ann Summers parties meet Thatcherism
It’s fun in the north with this fun, if silly, tale of first-generation Ann Summers party hosts. While Brian Cox’s Forces of Nature is a tour, if not a tour de force

Lucy Mangan

05, Jul, 2016 @6:20 AM

Article image
Detectorists review: more tender comedy about men, middle age and metal-detecting
Mackenzie Crook and Toby Jones shine in the third and final series of this beautifully written and performed slice of life

Sam Wollaston

09, Nov, 2017 @6:00 AM