Brian Viner: Another sports film set to sink without a trace

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The Independent Online

The collision of sport and acting is not always a felicitous one. But it is shortly to happen again, because the BBC reportedly intends to make a film about Steve Redgrave's remarkable Olympic exploits.

The collision of sport and acting is not always a felicitous one. But it is shortly to happen again, because the BBC reportedly intends to make a film about Steve Redgrave's remarkable Olympic exploits.

It is even suggested that Redgrave might himself take a cameo role in the film. And why not? He might never have heard of the methods of acting coach Stanislavsky, being far more interested in the methods of the rowing coach Topolski, but as a Redgrave, at least he has the surname for it.

Perhaps he will catch the acting bug and go on to play a detective inspector in The Bill. Acting, after all, offers the retired sportsman a familiar lifestyle, as former footballer Vinnie Jones might testify. Hero-worship, large pay cheques and ego-massaging acolytes feature prominently in both walks of life, so when a sportsman begins to lose his speed and strength, there is no more obvious career step than into the movies.

Eric Cantona did it. And not to be outdone by his fellow Frenchman, Aston Villa's David Ginola claims that the great Spanish director Pedro Almodovar is eager to make an actor of him. Ginola certainly has matinée-idol looks. And those of us who have seen him go sprawling as if felled by a bullet, in an attempt to win a penalty, can recommend his dramatic skills.

We should probably leave pantomime, and Frank Bruno in particular, out of the equation. However, Hollywood has become home to lots of sporting stars. To Johnny Weissmuller, Esther Williams and OJ Simpson. Nearly, for heaven's sake, to Ian Botham.

And the two worlds have collided in other interesting ways, for instance in the short-lived marriage of Joe DiMaggio and Marilyn Monroe, and the even shorter-lived marriage of Mike Tyson and Robyn Givens.

But of all the ways in which sport and acting collide, the most ridiculous, if also occasionally the most sublime, occurs when someone gets the bright idea to reproduce heroic sporting endeavours on screen. Sometimes, as in Raging Bull, it can work triumphantly. More often it goes horribly wrong, as in The Final Test, a risible cricket flick starring Jack Warner. Then there was the astounding Escape to Victory, a film so dire it was almost worthwhile, in which Sylvester Stallone and Pelé, more than a trifle implausibly, co-starred as footballing prisoners-of-war.

And let's not forget, try as we might, those cheesy Kevin Costner vehicles Field of Dreams (baseball) and Tin Cup (golf). Which category the forthcoming Redgrave film will fall into is anybody's guess. His is certainly a compelling story, what with his battle against diabetes and all.

Yet not even with Steven Spielberg at the helm could the final race sequence be made remotely as dramatic as the real thing. And therein lies the essential misconception of the sporting movie. It can never live up to the nail-biting tension of live action, which is fine if it harks back to the 1924 Olympics, as Chariots of Fire did, but trickier if the crescendo comes in September 2000.

Improbably enough, there have been rowing movies before, and I'm not thinking of the ones in which Victor Mature played a glistening-chested galley slave. The 1996 film True Blue, for instance, was billed rather hopefully as "the gripping story of the Oxford University Boat Race mutiny of 1987". Aptly, it sank without trace at the box office.

But the stakes are higher this time round. It is rumoured that three hot actors - Sean Bean, Robson Green and Ross Kemp - are all being considered to play Redgrave. Disappointingly, Robbie Coltrane is not even in the frame.

Still, whoever takes the lead role, the film will probably be admirably polished and get smashing viewing figures. On the whole, though, I wish the BBC wouldn't stick its oar in.

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