Shooting For Socrates


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Shooting For Socrates
"It's fairly formulaic, but it delivers a fair tribute for fans who remember how those days felt, and an important, if simplistic, picture of a time and place."

Northern Ireland, 1985. Tensions between Unionists and Republicans are high. Three IRA members and nine RUC officers are killed in February alone. In the same month, the country's football team plays a critical qualifying match against England. The result astounds everybody. Suddenly Protestants and Catholics, however militant, have something in common to root for. Northern Ireland is going to the World Cup.

The smallest nation to contend for the greatest prize in football in the 1986 competition, Northern Ireland was never likely to be the winner, but this is a tale of what Woody the cowboy might call falling with style - it's a plucky underdog story where what really matters is the thrill of taking part. As such, it's fairly formulaic, but it delivers a fair tribute for fans who remember how those days felt, and an important, if simplistic, picture of a time and place. It's still striking how little cinema has examined the Troubles and at a point when Belfast teenagers can no longer remember them directly it's important to have an antidote to romantic narratives about military glory.

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Here the romance is all about the football. The story tries to strike a balance between covering the experience of players, management, media and fans which results in us not getting quite enough of any one story, but still some performances shine through. John Hannah plays against type, playing manager Billy Bingham as a slightly softer Eighties version of Malcolm Tucker, right down to the haircut. Art Parkinson manages to charm as the wee boy to whom riots still sound like fun, who quickly loses himself in subbuteo games and football sticker albums. Ciarán McMenamin acquits himself well in the difficult role of Sammy McIlroy, the team's only real star quality player, already well past his prime when called to make the pilgrimage to Mexico and dealing with family problems that make it still harder.

In 1985 - as for most of the last 50 years - Brazil were the team to beat, in in 1986 they were captained by Sócrates - journalist, medical doctor, hero of the revolution and still considered one of the best footballers ever to have lived. Facing this godlike figure it's difficult even to imagine success. There's no bravado here, just awe, but this contributes to the thrill of being part of the action.

There's no way to recreate the magic of the original, so archive footage of the games is inserted where necessary. This works well enough when we're watching it on somebody's TV set but the difference in quality is problematic elsewhere. The overall narrative is similarly patchy, but with a subject that still rouses strong emotions, this film should still be successful in finding an audience.

Reviewed on: 16 Jul 2015
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The story of Northern Ireland's 1986 World Cup bid and its influence on the folks back home.
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Director: James Erskine

Writer: James Erskine

Starring: Nico Mirallegro, Conleth Hill, Art Parkinson, John Hannah, Aaron McCusker, Richard Dormer, Bronagh Gallagher

Year: 2014

Runtime: 91 minutes

BBFC: PG - Parental Guidance

Country: UK


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