101 mins, rated PG, opening in cinemas nationwide on 20 May 2004
Spin it Like Sobers?
Many films have used sport as a backdrop against which to explore other
issues. For example, in Bend it Like Beckham (Chadha, 2002)
women’s soccer was used to look at the social pressures on a young
English woman of traditional Indian background.
Cricket, in particular, has appeared in many movies over the
years. From The Final Test (Asquith, 1953) in which cricketer
Dennis Compton appeared as himself, and The Go-Between (Losey,
1970) to The Crying Game (Jordan, 1992) and Lagaan: Once Upon a Time in
India (Gowaricker, 2001), cricket has been used as a dramatic device,
often as a metaphor. In Wondrous Oblivion, director Paul Morrison
uses cricket as a means to explore the immigrant experience in 1960s
London from several points of view, and to look at the coming of age of
a young boy, and in a sense, his family and a whole community too.
The film’s protagonist is David Wiseman (newcomer Sam Smith), a young
Jewish boy. David’s parents are immigrants – his mother is German
and his father is Polish – and David is mad about cricket.
Unfortunately, he’s no good at it, but still he lives for
cricket. He collects cigarette cards with cricketers’ pictures on
them, he conducts imaginary Test Matches in his bedroom, and he has a
full cricketing kit. But he can’t play for nuts. And even
though his parents have scrimped and saved to send him to a “good
school”, nobody there takes the time to teach him how to play. David,
however, seems “wondrously oblivious” to all of this. Until new
neighbours move in next door, that is.
The new neighbours are Jamaican, and black. The father, Dennis, is
played by Delroy Lindo (Malcolm X, Lee, 1992 and The Cider House Rules,
Hallström, 1999). Lindo himself was born in Jamaica and came to
live in England when he was 17. The family loves cricket. They
set up nets in their back garden, much to the consternation of everyone
in the neighbourhood, except David, who is enthralled.
This sets up a fascinating social dynamic. David is forbidden to
go next door, but he can’t help himself. His father tells him:
“These are not our kind of people. We have nothing against them,
but we don’t mix.” But David appears at the fence, wearing his full
cricketing rig, and the next thing you know Dennis is teaching David
how to bat and bowl. But this being 1960s London, that kind of
behaviour won’t be tolerated for long, and things will eventually come
to a head.
Along the way there is a little inter-racial and extra-marital romance,
in scenes reminiscent of 2002’s Far From Heaven (Todd Haynes).
Too me, this is the least satisfactory part of the story. It
seemed a little “tacked on”. Yet it does lead to some poignant
moments, sensitively portrayed.
The film has an interesting look and feel – it’s not
naturalistic. It was shot mostly in the studio, and was lit so as
to give it a luminescent quality. There are charming fantasy
sequences, such as when David’s cricket cards come to life (our own
Richie Benaud features on one card). And there are inserts of
documentary film of cricket Test Matches (notably England vs. West
Indies in 1963. Photos of black people in London in the 1960s
bring a touch of reality back to the film.
This is a small film, and by no means a Bend it Like Beckham. But
it is well cast and delicately acted. It’s well written for the
most part, and inventively crafted too. It takes
intelligent look at a fascinating slice of social history. But on top
of all that, given that two of its characters are Sir Garfield Sobers
and Frank Worrell, Wondrous Oblivion is a must-see for cricket-lovers.