‘Believe’: Film Review

Although riddled with sports-movie clichés, "Believe" is not a total air-kick 

Brian Cox stars as Manchester United’s legendary manager Sir Matt Busby in this fictionalized fable for the family market.

As sticky with sentiment as a half-time orange segment, the soccer-themed British film Believe posits an imaginary moment in the 1980s when legendary Manchester United manager Sir Matt Busby (played by Brian Cox) comes out of retirement to coach a team of roughneck under-12 Mancunian kids for a big game. Opening in the U.K. now that school’s out for summer, director David Steinmann’s follow-up to The West Wittering Affair will offer football fans under 10 something to do on a wet day. However, any viewers older than that will cringe at the procession of sports-movie clichés, none too hoary and stale to be included.  

Although opening titles promise that the story was “inspired by actual events,” the main action set in Manchester circa 1984 is entirely a work of fiction created by screenwriters Massimiliano Durante and Carmelo Pennisi. It starts with a meet-cute encounter as Busby, restlessly retired from managing, is struck with awe by the dribbling skills of tween tearaway Georgie (Jack Smith, who admittedly does show off some fancy footwork), the captain and star striker of a motley gang of street players.

Still haunted by the tragic plane crash of 1958 which killed the ”Busby Babes,” some of Man U’s most promising young players (something that really did happen), Busby decides to coach the lads as they prepare to compete for a junior league cup. Cue training montages and scenes of youthful hijinks set to chirpy hits of the era like “Pass the Dutchie” by Musical Youth and Madness’ “Baggy Trousers.”

Naturally, it wouldn’t be very cinematic if Busby and the kids just worked hard, got better and maybe won the trophy or just had a good time. No, of course there must be a B-plot that complicates matters and threatens to prevent Georgie from competing on the big day, like in Bend It Like Beckham, Whip It! or Dodgeball or any countless other sports movies. In this case, Georgie’s well-meaning mother Erica (Natascha McElhone, fantastically miscast) is determined that he sit for an exam to win a scholarship to a posh private school, an event that happens to be taking place at exactly the same time as the big match.

In the end, the film is so guilelessly unabashed about its hokum that it becomes sort of endearing in a way, and one can’t but admire the likes of Cox, McElhone and Toby Stephens as the boo-hiss bad guy for fully committing to the corn. Steinmann directs the young cast well, getting fairly naturalistic performances that don’t stink of drama-school mannerisms. And young Smith is a find, a charismatic performer with talent both for acting and football. Technically, the film is competent, although it looks like a low-budget TV production or, perhaps more aptly, one of the pictures the government-backed Children’s Film Foundation used to make in the 1950s and 60s.

Production companies: A Trinity Film presentation of a Bill & Ben Production, in association with Wachafilm

Cast: Brian Cox, Jack Smith, Natascha McElhone, Anne Reid, Philip Jackson, Kate Ashfield, Toby Stephens, Joshua Dunne, Finlay Preston, Harry Armes, Jack Armes, Sam Wisniewski, Aine O’Duffy, Spencer Phillips

Directors: David Steinmann

Screenwriters: Massimiliano Durante, Carmelo Pennisi

Producers: Bill Jones, Ben Timlett

Executive producers: Hanspeter Jaberg, Aurelio Landolt, Mark Sandell

Director of photography: Gary Shaw

Production designer: Catrin Meredydd

Costume designer: Joanna Eatwell

Editor: Julian Rodd

Composer: Christian Henson

Rated PG (in the U.K.), 96 minutes