REVIEW / Woman on the verge of the relegation zone

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The Independent Culture
'WELL, tough tittie,' snapped Karren Brady, informed that some of the Birmingham City players didn't like the new pre-match uniform she had selected for them. For every item of the outfit they didn't wear their pay was to be docked, a reversal of the conventional procedure in David Sullivan's business empire, which more often rewards those who take their clothes off. He's earned enough from this simple business principle to be able to buy the British barrow- boy's favourite toy - a real working football club (though there might be some who quibble at the word 'working', given the terrifying consistency of Birmingham's scoreline).

Sullivan startled the football world and delighted tabloid editors by appointing a 23-year-old woman to manage the club, thus consummating the fantasy of Stan Hey's fictional series The Manageress; James Cohen used the same title for his engaging BBC 1 documentary about Karren Brady's attempt to turn the club around. 'Tough tittie' would serve as a fair shorthand for Brady's profile in the tabloid press, but the film revealed her to be much more than the bimbo with attitude portrayed by some papers. She's assured in her style, graceful under pressure and astonishingly bleep-free for a football manager. The fans love her, which is hardly surprising given that she's the first piece of good publicity the team have had for about 118 years. 'We've nivver wun bugger all in ahr 'istory,' said a cheerful taxi-driver, who was none the less loyal enough to hang a Birmingham City air freshener in his cab. It had 'The sweet smell of success' printed on it but the poignant truth is that the team stinks.

Cohen missed the real drama, the recent revelation that Brady is having an affair with one of her star players and may even have to place him on the transfer list, but his film was decidedly watchable for all that - a fond profile of the loyalties and betrayals the game involves. It also introduced you to Barry Fry, a character no drama producer would have allowed past the rewrite stage. 'You go in 'ere you really get the 'orn, you really get excited,' he said as he walked around the stands for the first time, clearly trying to talk in a language Mr Sullivan would understand - that of erectile tissue. When the team won a match, a very rare event indeed, he staged a one-man pitch invasion, dashing around as though his car-coat had gone down with scrapie.

The title sequence for the Lloyds Bank Film Challenge (C4), which showcases the work of teenage writers and young directors, is the sort of frantic, zany, speeded- up mess conventionally associated with youthful energy. Last week's opener, 'Buddha's Legs', delivered on the promise with a stand-up rant written by Susan Nickson and directed by Julian Kemp. This opened with a pair of Edwardian lovers mooning about amidst the crocuses before both were shot by the film's principal, a lippy schoolgirl in grey flannel, serving notice that, to paraphrase Jane Austen, the film-makers weren't going to restrict themselves to two inches of Merchant Ivory. Kemp's direction moved from scene to scene by every conceivable manner apart from the obvious ones, peeling away cinematic realism in a series of entertaining tricks which helped you to forget the somewhat rambling nature of the script.

Last night's film, 'Family Style' by Matthew Cooper, was a more sober affair, a monochrome mini-drama about bereavement and adolescent angst. It was, as adolescent dramas are, self-pitying and wishful-thinking in equal measure - filmed through the fish-eye lens of youth, which magnifies your own concerns and diminishes those of others.