A still from ‘The Beautiful Game’

A still from ‘The Beautiful Game’

Vinny (Micheal Ward) seems to have football running in his veins, but rebuffs Mal’s (Bill Nighy) approaches to play in the Homeless World Cup in Rome. He insists he is not homeless, though he is living out of his car. The Homeless World Cup is an annual tournament, which seeks to end homelessness through football.

Mal, former West Ham scout and present manager of England’s homeless football team, persists and Vinny joins the squad comprising Cal (Kit Young), Nathan (Callum Scott Howells), Jason (Sheyi Cole), Kevin (Tom Vaughan-Lawlor) and Aldar (Robin Nazari). Though talented, Vinny is prickly and refuses to bond with the rest of the team, despite their best efforts. As the film progresses, we learn the stories of the players — the British and those from other countries.

There is Rosita (Cristina Rodlo), an excellent striker representing the United States, who hopes the competition will offer her a way to stay on in the country rather than be deported like her parents. There is the Japanese contingent where manager Mika (Aoi Okuyama) hopes the team can find dignity and purpose through the World Cup.

The Beautiful Game (English)

Director: Thea Sharrock

Cast: Bill Nighy, Micheal Ward, Valeria Golino, Susan Wokoma, Callum Scott Howells, Kit Young, Sheyi Cole, Tom Vaughan-Lawlor, Robin Nazari, Aoi Okuyama, Cristina Rodlo

Run-time: 125 minutes

Storyline: A squad of British footballers compete in the Homeless World Cup and discover hope

Sister Protasia (Susan Wokoma) uses all her powers of persuasion to get her South African team to the championship on time, dodgy accent and all. The president of the Homeless World Cup Gabriella (Valeria Golino) teases Mal about his team’s chances.

Despite featuring real-life players, who have played in previous tournaments, The Beautiful Game is fiction, with the stories being composites of different players’ experiences. The matches are thrilling and we are invested in Mal’s team. Though the depiction of homelessness is not particularly realistic, The Beautiful Game swims by on a sea of good intentions and marvellous Mal in the person of Nighy. 

Vinny is not particularly likeable. He is downright obnoxious at times (full marks to Ward’s realisation of this tetchy person) and though we are given parts of his story, there are a great many questions that remain unanswered. Mal’s reasons are explained, but not completely. The many sub-plots including a romantic one featuring an organic fish as an apology find the film skittering about like a nervous horse. Maybe if writer Frank Cottrell-Boyce had focussed on fewer threads, it would have made for a tighter film. All is, however, forgiven in the spirit of the beautiful game—a term apparently popularised by legendary footballer Pele.

The Beautiful Game is currently streaming on Netflix


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