It seems odd to think that Shiner started life as a Shakespeare play but, really, that's how it happened and the end result of Scott Cherry and John Irvin's take on King Lear is the Bard does boxing.

Owing more to rhyming slang than rhyming couplets, Michael Caine shows a return to form here as Billy 'Shiner' Simpson, a "cheap little boxing promoter" on the verge of his lifetime's ambition - to have a champion, in the form of his son Eddie 'Golden Boy' Simpson (played adeptly by Matthew Marsden). The stage is set for his boy to win, but tragedy and deception loom at every turn, as the seeds he has sown in the past come to bear terrible fruit.

In recent years there has been a slew of East End gritty, gangland dramas, but many of them insist on polishing up the edges of everything to give it that slick, high fashion finish, popularised by Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. Irvin's Shiner, however, owes more to the grittier-edged crime thrillers of the Seventies, such as Get Carter - Caine says in the accompanying Making Of featurette that he views this film as part of a trilogy along with Get Carter and Mona Lisa.

He turns in a picture-stealing performance as the over-ambitious Shiner, menacing and yet able to find the humour in his role. Andy Serkis and Frank Harper, as his henchmen Mel and Stoney, hit this balancing act between humour and violence spot on, providing "capering" relief from the darker moments of the film. "They'll be famous now," Caine says in the later interview and Serkis certainly is - he's the voice of Gollum in The Lord Of The Rings series.

Paul Grabowsky's score - centring on a lone whistler - is the perfect accompaniment to the tale, with the scenes in the boxing ring viscerally realistic, a fact doubtless helped by the casting of real-life boxing champion Derrick Harmon as Golden Boy's opponent.

The rest of the supporting cast, including Martin Landau, Claire Rushbrook and Frances Barber all turn in fine performances, but, despite the film's early promise, it loses its grip part way through, becoming caught up in its own convolutions. You can't help but wonder whether this is down to Scott Cherry's inexperience at writing feature-length scripts - he is better known for turning out hour-long slots for TV shows, such as The Bill - as the first hour barrels along only to find itself on the ropes later on, though, thankfully, it rallies towards the end.

There are moments of brilliance to be had - such as the casting of old boxers like Terry Spinks, Ron Cooper and David Auld as Shiner's pals - but also moments when you wish that someone had taken scissors to the screenplay.

Shiner can certainly go the distance, but isn't world championship material, despite Caine's flawless performance.

Reviewed on: 19 Oct 2002
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London boxing promoter attempts to find out why an important fight goes against him.
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Angus Wolfe Murray ***1/2

Director: John Irvin

Writer: Scott Cherry

Starring: Michael Caine, Martin Landau, Frances Barber, Frank Harper, Andy Serkis, Matthew Marsden, Clare Rushbrook

Year: 2001

Runtime: 99 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: UK


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