Directors: Sam Collins, Jarrod Kimber, Johnny Blank
Screenplay: Sam Collins, Jon Hotten, Jarrod Kimber
Starring: Jonathan Agnew, David Becker, Ian Chappell
Running Time: 99 min
BBFC Certificate: TBC
Nothing says niche market quite like ‘sports documentary’, and while recent films such as Senna and Next Goal Wins demonstrate that a love of a given sport isn’t necessarily a prerequisite to enjoy a film, it’s hard to imagine that Death of a Gentleman will appeal to anybody but the cricket lover. However, for people who know that third man is a fielding position as well as a Carol Reed film, a documentary about cricket is a delight.
For the cricket and film aficionado recent years has been a veritable run fest. Fire in Babylon celebrated one of the finest teams in the history of test cricket and contextualised what it meant for the wider culture, From the Ashes chronicled the test series of 1981 which garnered the sobriquet Botham’s Ashes in honour of the erstwhile all rounder’s exploits, whilst Out of the Ashes tells the remarkable story of the rise of the Afghanistan cricket team (who have subsequently won their first match at the Cricket World Cup this year). Death of a Gentleman though is no celebration, rather an exposé of how vested interests and corruption threaten the game itself.
Released the weekend that England beat Australia to regain the Ashes in front of huge crowds, the film’s conceit that cricket is in crisis seems incongruous. For anybody who was at Trent Bridge to see England take an unassailable 3-1 lead, Test cricket looks in rude health. Dig a little deeper though and the picture becomes murkier. Journalists Sam Collins and Jarrod Kimber do just that, taking the starting point that T20 cricket, the brasher, quicker and less substantial format of the game, threatens to undermine Test cricket which has always been seen as the pinnacle.
From this starting point the Woodward and Berstein of cricket discover a narrative even darker than they could have imagined, where suits in plush Dubai hotel suites (smoke filled rooms are so last century) bully and coerce so that over half of the revenue generated by the second largest sport goes to just three countries; India, England and Australia.
The villains of the piece are Indian concrete magnate and current chairman of the ICC N Srinivasan and the English chairman of the ECB Giles Clarke. Clarke comes across as an insufferable self deluding moron (refusing to talk about the Stamford fiasco) and Srinivasan must be a good poker player as he is inscrutable and surely not as stupid as he appears. I suspect that IPL founder Lalit Modi would like to cast himself as the hero (‘put the fan at the heart of everything you do’ is his mantra), and it’s genuinely hard to know what to make of the man. Is he a Cassandra figure (‘I tried to warn people’) with the good of the game at heart or a self serving narcissist who can’t stand not being the ‘celebrity’ feted at the IPL? Banned for life from cricket administration in 2013, since the completion of this film he’s quoted as saying the threatened rival to ICC cricket has got his ‘rubber stamp on it’. Turbulent times ahead seems inevitable.
Clarke tells Kimber that nobody will be interested in a film about cricket administration, but is patently wrong. Many will be interested in this important historical record of how the ‘big three’ cricket boards changed the governance of cricket in the exact opposite way that an independent report recommended. As venerable journalist Gideon Haigh asks, ‘does cricket make money in order to exist or does it exist in order to make money?’
On another point entirely, there’s surely an interesting film to be made in its own right with the material shot of the now former Australian test batsman Ed Cowan. He’s a rare beast; an erudite and articulate elite sportsman. He talks with candour about the sacrifices it takes to make the grade at the top level, whilst maintaining admirable perspective. We see him raise his bat to celebrate hitting 50 on debut and also the 100 that sealed his place in the 2013 ashes squad, and the pure unadulterated delight on his face is utterly captivating. A reminder of why fans love watching the game and why growing the game worldwide should be the goal of the ICC.
The film will be going into UK independent cinemas in August, starting in the largest independent chain in the UK – Picturehouses – on August 7.