Only One Jimmy Grimble
For a while, around the turn of the millennium, it seemed that every British movie – or, at any rate, those chosen by distributors for Australians to see – tried to emulate Billy Elliot (2000) or The Full Monty (1997).
The formula had become rock solid. Working class battlers in depressed neighbourhoods dream their impossible dreams of hitting the big time in sport, showbiz or the finer arts.
Purely Belter (2000) represented the nadir of this trend, but There's Only One Jimmy Grimble was a modestly successful attempt at reviving the formula. We are back with a scarcely pubescent lad, Jimmy (Lewis McKenzie), who loves soccer but is beset by fear on the field – especially when confronted by the school bully, Gordon (Bobby Power), son of an influential local businessman.
Jimmy's timidity is matched by the indifference of the school coach, melancholy Eric (Robert Carlyle). But after the boy befriends a mysterious bag lady, Alice (Jean Lapotaire), and receives from her the gift of seemingly magical boots, the prospect of success in the low-level soccer leagues begins to lift everyone's spirits.
Director John Hay and chief writer Simon Mayle mercifully go easy on the muckiness usually caked on the surface of everyday life in movies of this sort. The Manchester setting is granted a little transcendent levity amidst the rain, mud and housing commission flats. Characters such as Gordon and the motorcycle-riding Johnny (Ben Miller), dubious boyfriend of Jimmy's luckless Mum, Donna (Gina McKee), are played for laughs rather than any menacing potential. No one is a victim for very long here.
Romance, however, is not the story's strongest suit. Although Donna has a nicer guy in the wings, Harry (Ray Winstone), who still cares for her, and even the shy Jimmy attracts the faithful support of the school's Goth girl (Samia Ghadie), the most heartfelt emotion is the symbolic father-son bond between Harry and Jimmy.
The film has spirited jokes, well-choreographed soccer action, amusing sidebar characters and a dependable slew of pop tunes (by my count, it was the fourth film released within a month to feature '80s band Frankie Goes to Hollywood). The story manages to merely flirt with magic realism and skirt outright sentimentality by means of several clever plot revelations and resolutions.
Australia's defeat in the World Cup Qualifier in 2001 robbed some of the feel-good lustre from the release of this unashamedly manipulative soccer fable. But it is still a lot of fun.
© Adrian Martin November 2001