"Gazza cried and football changed forever". So says the tagline for 'One Night in Turin', a documentary about England's progression to the semi-final in World Cup Italia '90 that looks at the social and political context of the event as well as looking at how Gazza and company changed people's perception of the beautiful game and the England team forever. The film, directed byJames Erskine('Who Killed the Honey Bee?" and "Oil Storm") and produced by the people behind the splendid 'Man on Wire', is comprised of a mixture of archive footage (much of it previously unseen) and recreations shot by Lol Crawley. These take the form of close-ups which involve isolating and emphasising one moment of detail in order to create a heightened sense of drama. You will see a football being placed on the penalty spot just before the archive footage shows the real kick or a shot of the ball deflecting off a post spliced between footage of a failed attempt on goal. The purpose of these shots is to add to the excitement to proceedings and to put you in that moment, outside of stuffy archive footage. However, in practice they break up the action and always took me out of the moment. I don't know whether most people would find the real footage of football boring (though presumably not many in the audience for a football documentary would), but I personally would have been quite happy to see the real footage play out uninterrupted and these shots really distracted me from the real events. However, when we do see archive material it is often superb and just as emotionally affecting as the filmmakers hope. The stand-out moment for me was a subtitled lip-reading of England manager Bobby Robson as he consoled a distraught Paul Gascoigne following the famous semi-final defeat to Germany on penalties. He says words to the affect of "don't worry lad, you'll have plenty more World Cups". Words that we know (with even a limited knowledge of football) are never allowed to come true in a promising career wrecked by drink, indiscipline and injury. Gazza came back into the England limelight at Euro '96, but he would never play in another World Cup (infamously missing out on a place in Glenn Hoddle's squad for France '98). The film is told from the perspective of Pete Davis (whose well-liked book of the same name this film is apparently a faithful adaptation of) and, delivered by none other than Gary Oldman, the film has a subjective tone, which speaks from the perspective of one who was there at the time. In some respects this heightens the emotion of a moment like the one mentioned, as the narrator is also unaware of the totemic stars fall from grace. In this documentary we are shown Gazza as he was seen then: as one of the best footballers in the world. This is, of course, bitter sweet. There is also some poignancy to the film's look at Bobby Robson himself. The honourable and well-respected football manager died last year after a battle with cancer, and seeing him hounded by the press prior to England's explosive run to the semis is sometimes quite difficult to take. Robson and others feature in some great interviews and footage of press conferences and anyone with an interest in football history (or even anyone nostalgic for Italia '90) will find themselves engaged and excited by all this material. However, if you have no interest in football (and have no memory of 1990), then it would hard to you getting anything out of this documentary film. Some sports movies can appeal to those with no interest in the featured sport, but the social and political aspect of this film is really only a backdrop used to make England's footballing achievement (and the semi-final's record television audience) seem like a defining moment that brought a divided nation together. The film doesn't really explore this to any great extent. We are told that the game's popularity increased and the reputation of the English game improved to the point that the Premiership formed soon after. But we are given no real information as to how the two things are actually connected. I am not saying the film's thesis is wrong: just that it didn't do too good a job of convincing me it was right. There is a fascinating and in-depth film about this era still waiting to be made. 'One Night in Turin' is playing in cinemas across the UK for one night only on Tuesday the 11th of May before a DVD/Bu-Ray release on May 31st.
A regular film and video games contributor for What Culture, Robert also writes reviews and features for The Daily Telegraph, GamesIndustry.biz and The Big Picture Magazine as well as his own Beames on Film blog. He also has essays and reviews in a number of upcoming books by Intellect.