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A Mel Smith Film
Written by Tim Firth
Produced by James Gay-Rees
Directed by Mel Smith

In the world of spectator sports, there are of course the all time greats:video icon Football, Rugby, Tennis, Golf and… Lawn Bowls...?

Inspired by the story of Griff Sanders, the self-styled “John McEnroe” of lawn bowling, who received a nationwide ban from the game for excessive swearing, BLACKBALL is the fictional story of Cliff and his Rocky-style rise and fall from local bowls maverick to national sporting hero.

The Story


aIn the sleepy seaside town of Torquay, on “The English Riviera”, the game reserved for geriatrics and pensioners is taken VERY seriously. None more so than by the reigning champion Ray Speight (James Cromwell), conservative and stuffy he has been Torquay’s home grown hero for over 20 years… but now his title is threatened.

Cliff Starkey (Paul Kaye) a young pretender from the wrong side of town, is daring to go up against him. Armed with his sexy bad-boy persona, a flashy American agent Rick (Vince Vaughn) and an army of screaming female fans, Cliff is a fresh and exciting new sex symbol in the game. In fact, he is fast turning Lawn Bowls into the biggest spectator sport in England - possibly the World!!! To add insult to injury, Cliff’s biggest fan is his new girlfriend Kerry (Alice Evans)... Ray’s daughter!

This hilarious and life affirming new British comedy is a classic tale of triumph over adversity that will quite literally bowl you over!

"...The whole idea is silly and so is the film, it certainly raises a smile or two, especially when you realise you're being entertained by a film about bowls....."




The Cast

Cliff Starkey - Paul Kaye
Trevor - Johny Vegas
Ray Speight - James Cromwell
Kerry Speight - Alice Evans
Mutley (Grandad) - Bernard Cribbins
Rick Schwartz - Vince Vaughn
Bridget - Imelda Staunton
Hugh the Sideburns - Ian McNeice
Alan the Pipe - James Fleet
Chairman Collins - Kenneth Cranham
Giles Witton - David Ryall
Mark Little - Aussie player
Tony Slattery - Referee

The reviews

There can't have been many films made about the noble and refined sport of bowls. Even gardening is ahead in the 'films about what old people do' stakes, although I'm still waiting for Alan Titchmarsh - The Movie.

Blackball is the (somewhat) true story of Cliff Starkey - the self-modelled bad boy of bowls - and his battle of the classes with Torquay's stuffy club champion Ray Speight (James Cromwell). The exceptionally talented Starkey, portrayed by the brilliant Paul Kaye (of Dennis Pennis fame), is expelled from the club after writing "Speight is a tosser" on a championship scorecard. The media attention surrounding Starkey's expulsion turns him into an overnight star and the Torquay bowls club is put under pressure to revoke his 15-year ban in order to collect the sponsorship offered.

Torquay is a splendid location for this over-the-top comedy in which the humour comes not from the sport (the film-makers assume the audience has never played bowls and the basic rules of the game are gradually explained in various artificial-looking scenes), but from the social differences between Starkey - a piss-poor decorator from the wrong side of the tracks (he has to throw the local footballing kids off their pitch in order to practise) - and conservative, well-to-do Speight.

For instance, ahead of their championship game, Starkey swaggers onto the green accompanied by the music from Rocky played by a brass band while Speight and the other club members try in vain to maintain some kind of decorum. Of course, that idea alone wouldn't be enough to keep the whole film together, so there is a flimsy plot about some Australian champs (one played by ex-Neighbour Mark Little) who Starkey is desperate to defeat - an obsession that sees him lose touch with his roots and his friends. The predictable love interest comes when Starkey falls for Speight's daughter Kerry (Alice Evans), but the best supporting role goes to Johnny Vegas who plays Starkey's best mate Trevor with his usual raw, expressive performance.

On the whole it is an enjoyable caper, even if Blackball only touches the surface in terms of social satire. Kaye's Starkey is an entertaining and likeable character and the stern-faced Cromwell is the perfect foil for his lines. The whole idea is silly and so is the film, but it certainly raises a smile or two, especially when you realise you're being entertained by a film about bowls.



Coming soon.....


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  aBLACKBALL is available on DVD


Other scripts, CDs and DVDs of Tim Firth's work are available.