Four goals and a Bar Mitzvah: '66 World Cup made into film

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The Independent Culture

Now the triumph of Bobby Moore's team against West Germany is to form the backdrop of a feelgood film made by Working Title, producers of the Bridget Jones movies. Helena Bonham-Carter, Stephen Rea and Catherine Tate all have roles in Sixty Six, which started shooting at Elstree Studios and on location in London this week.

The makers hope it will be ready for release when the England team makes its 40th anniversary bid for footballing glory next summer, though it is billed as a comedy not a football film.

It tells the story of 12-year-old Bernie, played by newcomer Gregg Sulkin, whose Bar Mitzvah ceremony is looming. However, his family are increasingly distracted by the threat of losing their business and by their wayward older son.

And Bernie's longed-for Bar Mitzvah is threatened with being overshadowed when England qualify for the World Cup Final scheduled on the same day.

Tim Bevan, co-chairman of Working Title, said it was a film in the company's tradition of comedy and pathos. "It's a film about a family, it's a film about heart. It's a film about a moment when England was feeling absolutely fantastic about itself and there's this momentous event in this young boy's life."

It is based upon a true story told by the film's director, Paul Weiland, at his 50th birthday party.

"There were a lot of very illustrious people who all thought it would make a great film, including ourselves and Richard Curtis [writer of Four Weddings and a Funeral ]," Mr Bevan said.

Gregg Sulkin was discovered in a trawl of the north London Jewish community and its schools. "He's great, he's sweet, he's lovely."

Bonham-Carter plays Bernie's mother, while his father is played by Eddie Marsan, whose restrained performance as the daughter's boyfriend in Vera Drake was much praised.

Mr Bevan said: "The last time we had a really good father-son story was the backdrop to Billy Elliot. If you can nail them, audiences like them. With these smaller films, they have to work on an emotional basis."

He added: "I always think British films work best when they're very honest to a particular part of England. Four Weddings and a Funeral was true to middle-class people, Bend it Like Beckham was faithful to the Indian community and Billy Elliot was faithful to the miners. This is faithful to kids growing up in a Jewish community in north London in the Sixties. You immediately have texture and honesty."

And Weiland's involvement was also a guarantee of authenticity. The director, whose previous films include Roseanna's Grave and City Slickers II, had been driving the designers insane. "He's been shouting at the art director saying, 'My mother would never have done it like that.'"

The aim is to have the film ready for release by the time of next year's World, Cup although Mr Bevan stressed it was a comedy, not a football film. Working Title Films has been co-chaired by Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner since 1992 and has made more than 70 films, taking more than $3 billion worldwide, including Four Weddings and a Funeral and the two Bridget Jones films. Sixty Six is being made by its division for smaller budget productions, the first of which was Billy Elliot, with other hits including Shaun of the Dead.

Its two young writers are Peter Straughan, who is also adapting Toby Young's book How to Lose Friends and Alienate People, and Bridget O'Connor.

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