Boot vibrations: Shooting for Socrates in cinemas
Shooting For Socrates focuses on the Northern Ireland team's ill-fated World Cup '86 campaign. However, James Erskine's gentle sporting drama finds joy among the defeats, as David Roy discovered
Shooting For Socrates (PG)
Starring: Richard Dormer, Art Parkinson, Bronagh Gallagher, Ciaran McMenamin, Conleth Hill
Director: James Erskine
RATING: THREE STARS
THIS period piece about a Belfast father and son's investment in Northern Ireland's World Cup '86 campaign may have been made on a bootstring budget, but an abundance of low-key charm, Conleth Hill's film stealing-performance as sports reporting 'smoothie' Jackie Fullerton and a good few laughs throughout help James Erskine's gentle sporting flick to kick on past its TV movie production values.
Not that this 'David vs Goliath' affair is badly made: sporting dramas can fall down painfully when it comes to putting the actual sport on the screen, but Shooting For Socrates benefits from its capably recreated scenes from the Northern Ireland soccer team's plucky yet ultimately doomed mission to Mexico.
We see much of the 'green and white army''s exploits from the perspective of nine-year-old footie fan Tommy (Art Parkinson), who faithfully tunes in to 'man on the ground' Jackie Fullerton's satellite broadcasts but seems unsure if he should share his philosophically inclined crane-driving father Arthur's (Richard Dormer) passion for the northern team led by oddball manager Billy Bingham (John Hannah).
However, the exploits of Northern Ireland captain Sammy McIroy (Ciaran McMenamin in a horrendous wig), star striker Norman Whiteside (Chris Newman) and young hopeful David Campbell (Nico Mirallegro) et al provide a welcome distraction from the Anglo-Irish Agreement's fallout, which has turned the streets around Tommy's east Belfast abode into riotsville.
Indeed, the national focus on the 'beautiful game' (Shooting For Socrates is at pains to highlight how north and south followed the NI team) and the Northern Ireland squad's date with destiny against Socrates (Sergio Mur) and Brazil's other footballing gods offers the gentle Arthur an ideal platform for teaching Tommy about how it's not the winning, it's the taking part that matters and other well-worn sporting cliches.
The side's World Cup prospects also become a cheesy metaphor for the fate of the north itself, but thankfully the film doesn't dwell on this too much.
Shooting for Socrates is at its best when it sticks with Billy Bingham's boys as they train in the sweltering heat of New Mexico before battling through the group stages in the real (and equally 'scorchio') Mexico.
There's training camp drama as captain Sammy McIlroy's World Cup is jeopardised by the sudden death of his mother and amusing hi-jinx a-plenty as the players attempt to circumvent their wheeler-dealing manager's booze ban and encounter Tommy's mad uncle Woodsy, an 'NI ultra' on tour.
And will young Derry player David Campbell finally get a dream start to his international career by earning his debut cap against Spain or perhaps even Brazil?
Luckily 'our Jackie' is there on the sidelines to keep everyone abreast with the effortlessly debonair commentary that helped him become an immaculately groomed legend of local broadcasting with a little help from his faithful/long-suffering cameraman Albert Kirk (Gerard Jordan).
Northern Ireland's World Cup ambitions were swiftly put to the sword with a 3-0 battering in Guadalajara, but Shooting For Socrates mines plenty of joy amid the agonising draws and defeats leading up to that fateful clash.
The film is no cinematic masterpiece but, as Socrates said: "Victory is secondary. What matters is joy."
On that score at least, James Erskine's movie delivers a comfortable home win.