The Football Monologues review – genial indie takes tips from Alan Bennett

The beautiful game stands in for deeper, more personal struggles as Greg Cruttwell’s engaging characters pour their hearts out

A big season, this, for Greg Cruttwell. Next month, the BFI revives Mike Leigh’s Naked, in which Cruttwell landed his most indelible acting gig as the yuppie scumbag Jeremy. This week, however, he resumes writer-director duties with this genial indie that casts Leigh alumni and TV stalwarts as football-crazed individuals, pouring their hearts out to a mostly static camera for 90 minutes, plus injury time. It is an innately theatrical proposition, like a fringe play that’s snuck in through the Odeon fire doors. Yet this is pretty sound stuff, engagingly performed: if not a resounding triumph for one medium over another, then the kind of honourable draw that sends everybody home reasonably happy.

Its tactics derive from the Alan Bennett playbook, revealing what first seem like eccentrically heightened passions, whether for Spurs or the fictional Sandersbrook United under-12s, as cover for deeper, more personal struggles. In the boardroom, Emma Amos’s non-league chairwoman mulls the ethics of an affair with her married manager over glasses of chardonnay; superfan Stephen Boxer (The Crown’s Denis Thatcher) splutters sausage roll while overinvesting in a juniors’ team (with reassuringly wholesome reason); hotshot Samuel Anderson has his status challenged by an influx of academy kids. Inevitably, referees get some stick: Mark Hadfield provides comic relief as an official who refers to the pitch as his “kingdom”, only to see himself royally dethroned.

The overarching editorial stance is a generalised sigh about money never trickling down to grassroots, and if Cruttwell’s niche punning (“No way, José Mourinho”) can’t match Bennett’s Messi-level wit, he’s good at drawing out distinct personality types. Brian Bovell is a picture of affability as a cabby-turned-scout, while Candida Gubbins proves a mid-film dynamo as a late convert drawn by her Dulwich Hamlet-supporting beau into barracking “the Tooting scum”. Like Leigh, Cruttwell affords his players time and space to run a mile, further shaping the credible chatter with judicious cutting between workaday locations. It’s refreshing, too, to see a football-themed Britpic that swerves the overworked territory of hooliganism; as Gubbins’ Amelia insists: “There are no hooligans at Dulwich.”

• The Football Monologues is released on 29 October in cinemas.

Contributor

Mike McCahill

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
90 Minutes review – football caper is a goalless draw
Produced by Rio Ferdinand, this story of a rough-and-tumble weekend league descends into an aimless kickabout

Mike McCahill

14, Mar, 2019 @6:00 AM

Article image
Iceland Is Best review – quirky coming-of-age indie never takes off
Feisty teenager Sigga longs to move to California from her small hometown in Iceland. At least the scenery’s interesting

Phuong Le

06, Sep, 2021 @1:00 PM

Article image
Moon Dogs review – British indie road movie covers familiar ground
A promising but cliched film about two stepbrothers and the manic-pixie-rock-chick who comes between them on a journey from Shetland to Glasgow

Peter Bradshaw

01, Sep, 2017 @7:00 AM

Article image
Girlfriends review – a lo-fi indie miracle about love and the city
Claudia Weill’s 1978 comic tale of a photographer trying to make it in New York is a gem whose emotional force comes from the female friendships at its heart

Peter Bradshaw

23, Jul, 2021 @6:00 AM

Article image
Ride the Eagle review – fluffy US indie gets emotionally lost in the woods
Stoner Jake Johnson inherits a dream cabin from estranged mum Susan Sarandon, but her bequest comes with conditions

Cath Clarke

05, Oct, 2021 @10:00 AM

Article image
Diamantino review – delightfully daft football fantasy
A disgraced world-class striker’s life descends into chaos as he adopts a child refugee, becomes a vote-leave poster boy – and gets cloned by the government

Cath Clarke

08, May, 2019 @4:00 PM

Article image
10 films to watch at Cannes | Peter Bradshaw's picks
Jim Jarmusch’s starry zombie horror opens, Quentin Tarantino returns and rising director Alice Furtado makes her debut

Peter Bradshaw

13, May, 2019 @4:10 PM

Article image
From the Vine review – laugh-free comedy of midlife Italian escape
Joe Pantoliano stars as a disaffected executive setting out to revive his grandfather’s vineyard in this tiresomely whimsical tale

Cath Clarke

07, Sep, 2021 @9:00 AM

Article image
Lina from Lima review – funny, sultry film about a plucky economic migrant
Upending arthouse tropes with musical numbers and lashings of sex, this witty debut about a Peruvian domestic worker refuses to see its heroine as a victim

Leslie Felperin

16, Aug, 2021 @11:00 AM

Article image
Dr Bird’s Advice for Sad Poets review – quirky teenage hero gets life lessons from a pigeon
This coming-of-age comedy tackles family dysfunction sensitively but is unsure how to handle its hero’s mental health

Cath Clarke

18, Jun, 2021 @7:31 AM