Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

Why should time be honoured? It seems an odd idea. As if age itself is of value and ancient techniques infinitely preferable to whipper-snapping young ones. Perhaps it is a method of patronising the fuddy and humouring the duddy.

Blackball is a time-honoured comedy, which, in layperson's terms, means old fashioned. Also, it's as British as Blackpool rock, except this is Torquay. Same thing, really - coastal resort, way past its sell-by-date.

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In the days before meritocracy and New Labour, the class system was a mine of good gags. Since Torquay is the town that time forgot, nothing has altered and at the heart of this movie habits of a lifetime die hard. The pompous old farts at the bowling club run the show and the scruffy oiks from the housing estate don't get a look in.

Cliff Starkey (Paul Kaye) works with his granddad (Bernard Cribbins), painting and decorating. Granddad is a member of the bowling club and proud of it, even if the posher members look down on him for driving a van with his name on it. Cliff learnt to play on the rough ground outside their council house, where accumulated litter resembles a Turner Prize exhibit, complete with crushed lager cans and used condoms.

Naturally, he's a scallywag and the game's answer to Alex Higgins ("No-one watched the snooker before The Hurricane"), capable of audacious trick shots and rule-breaking antics. His nemesis is Ray Speight (James Cromwell), chairman of the committee and the best player Torquay has ever produced. It doesn't help that he fancies his beautiful daughter, Kerry (Alice Evans).

The script runs along traditional lines - the rise and fall of the working class hero - full of stereotypes, cheap emotion and stand up gags. It even has Johnny Vegas as Cliff's best mate who is seldom seen without food in his face. Director Mel Smith is a past master of this kind of comedy and he's not going to start being clever now, just to prove that he's above it.

Ultimately, the performances matter most. Cromwell, best remembered for being exceptionally tall, American and the farmer in Babe, masters the accent and the politics of snobbery surprisingly well. Cribbins slips into his role like a weathered hand into a favoured gardening glove. Vegas is wasted and Evans charming.

All eyes are on Kaye, who, for those who don't know his allegedly annoying TV persona, is a minor revelation. Not since the emergence of Lee Evans, before he went to Hollywood and disappeared into the half-light of cameo support roles, has a British comedian provided such energy and originality to the screen.

Love him or hate him, Kaye knows how to play. And what's even better, you don't have to like the game.

Reviewed on: 04 Sep 2003
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British class comedy about a council estate lad with a tearaway talent for bowls.
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Director: Mel Smith

Writer: Tim Firth

Starring: Paul Kaye, James Cromwell, Bernard Cribbins, Alice Evans, Vince Vaughn, Johnny Vegas, Imelda Staunton, Vic Reeves, Mark Little

Year: 2003

Runtime: 96 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: UK


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