Gaming Editor Benjamin Oakden reflects back on the football mockumentary Mike Bassett: England Manager in light of the current FIFA World Cup
Every time the World Cup rolls around, I make sure to give Mike Bassett: England Manager a rewatch. The film is a mockumentary following second rate football manager Mike Bassett (Ricky Tomlinson), who is propelled into the England hotseat after nobody else is willing to take the job. The film is a loose parody of The Impossible Job, a documentary filmed during Graham Taylor’s time managing the Three Lions, but also takes swipes at the media circus surrounding the national side more generally.
As a comedy, the film can largely be judged on the strength of its jokes, and Mike Bassett: England Manager brings iconic ones in droves. Whether it’s the aftermath of Bassett’s decision to write his squad on the back of a cigarette packet, to a scene where he argues with a group of England fans outside the team coach, the laughs are delivered consistently.
The film isn’t just made up of throwaway gags, as it is also able to dish out mockery at both the FA’s tendency to hire old-fashioned and out-of-depth managers and the high amounts of media pressure that the England manager must navigate while trying to guide the team to results. Mike Bassett also has a fair amount of emotional depth, with his wife Karine (Amanda Redman) shown to be struggling with the level of abuse she and her family receive during England’s poor performances. This subplot is a welcome part of the film as it turns the mockery towards the England fans, chastising those who take the sport too seriously.
This level of character depth doesn’t really extend outside of the Bassett family. His players and coaching staff are largely made up of caricatures, from the grovelling coach Dave Dodds (Bradley Walsh) to the hard-tackling centre-half Gary Wackett (Geoff Bell), the latter of which is humorously arrested for joining a hooligan firm. While these stock characters may be a little cheap, they fit in well enough for a lighthearted comedy to satirise the footballing stars of the nineties. One exception to this is the troubled, but talented, midfielder Kevin Tonkinson (Dean Lennox Kelly), an obvious parody of Paul Gascoigne who Bassett perseveres with despite his alcoholism and sexual mishaps; his climactic goal at the end of the film completes his character arc is a perfect outlet for the film’s theme of loyalty.
The film is enhanced by great acting from the two leading stars. Redman is effective at conveying the stress that the situation has put the family under, and Tomlinson is also good at conveying the strain that Bassett is under. From his fiery and expletive-ridden half-time team talk, to the determination in his recital of the Rudyard Kipling poem ‘If’ during a press conference, the fine comic delivery Tomlinson showed in ‘The Royle Family’ is supplemented with sound emotional acting. The plot sees Bassett pull through the immense pressure and gain the trust of the nation – while the poem recital may be a little cheesy, this sudden transformation from zero to hero is a great mockery of how reactionary England discourse can be, especially since much of Bassett’s success is ultimately based on luck.
When Mike Bassett: England Manager was released, Sven-Goran Eriksson had taken charge and England had recently beaten Germany 5-1 in a World Cup qualifier, leading many critics to feel that the film was outdated, and that the national team had moved on to new heights.
And yet, looking back at England’s performances in tournaments prior to the tenure of Gareth Southgate, we can see just how well Mike Bassett was able to deconstruct the problems with the national team. The tactical inflexibility, the media circuses and the embarrassing results would all continue long after the film was released. That’s ultimately why this film feels so rewatchable; it’s a self-deprecating and depressingly accurate look at the England team, with iconic gags and a surprising amount of emotion packed in.
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