Borg vs McEnroe


Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

Borg Vs McEnroe
"Why make a movie about this match? Why now? Is it the danger factor with Superbrat or nostalgia for IceBorg or the ingenuity of the stunt guys to make the players look genuine?" | Photo: Curzon/Artificial Eye

They haven't done cricket yet. They haven't done Tiger Woods. Why not Leicester City, 2016? Everyone loves wee Davy in the big Goliath one-to-one. Remember Cassius Clay against Sonny Liston, the kid against the champ? Sports movies have all the drama of a gladatorial bull pit.

You don't have to care two bits about tennis to fancy Bjorn Borg. You don't have to be gay or single or understand what deuce means to recognise beauty when it walked onto centre court at Wimbledon in the Seventies. He was blond, Swedish and unbeatable.

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This was after those all conquering Aussies - Hoad, Rosewell, Emerson, Laver - had wiped the grass with the opposition and before the American resurgence with Connors, Agassi, Sampras and, of course, John ("You can NOT be serious!") McEnroe.

For fans and fortune-tellers, Borg was a role model. He broke with tradition by reflecting the post Beatles attitude towards short back and sides. His hair was long. Like a girl's. At The All England Club? No!

He must be a nonconformist, a bit of a rebel, the James Dean of Scandinavian tennis. But somehow something didn't quite fit. He appeared shy, unemotional and dedicated in a dull way. How could he look this good and yet be... ordinary?

The clash comes in the final at Wimbledon 1980, Borg vs McEnroe. Borg has won the trophy four times in a row. McEnroe is the young pretender, the punk from New York who doesn't know how to behave, having hissy fits every time a linesman makes a dodgy call. It is love/hate with the punters, mainly hate. They deplore his ungentlemanly conduct and yet find it exciting at the same time, like a secret pleasure, compared to the well mannered Bjorn who never puts a foot wrong.

Why make a movie about this match? Tennis has never set the box office alight. Why now? Is it the danger factor with Superbrat or nostalgia for IceBorg or the ingenuity of the stunt guys to make the players look genuine?

Danish director Janus Metz shoots it like a doc with flashbacks to childhood where training starts young and talent cuts deep and the hunger for success is all encompassing. As a teenager Bjorn was like Mac, angry as a wasp in a jar. His coach (Stellan Skarsgard) tells him, "Wanting it that bad can trip you up" and warns him if he can't control his emotions he'll blow it before it's begun.

McEnroe, on the other hand, has his dad and the shortest fuse in the biz. His competitive drive knows no bounds. The Wimbledon crowd boo him. He doesn't care. He HAS to win.

Despite expectations the film is made with integrity, although did Mac use the F-word so freely on England's green and hallowed ground? Sverrir Gudnason is perfectly cast, hinting at Borg's depressive underside, while Shia LaBeouf has the energy and the fire to set this match alight.

Together they make it real.

Reviewed on: 18 Sep 2017
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The story of the tennis rivalry between the Swede Björn Borg and the American John McEnroe.
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Director: Janus Metz

Writer: Ronnie Sandahl

Starring: Sverrir Gudnason, Shia LaBeouf, Stellan Skarsgård,Tuva Novotny, David Bamber, Björn Granath, Robert Emms, Jane Perry, Linnea Tagesson, Ronnie Sandahl, Scott Arthur, Janis Ahern, Claes Ljungmark, Tom Datnow, Leo Borg

Year: 2017

Runtime: 100 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: Sweden, Denmark, Finland

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