Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 26 May 2016

BBC's The Rack Pack recalls snooker's clash of cultures when hellraiser Higgins met met boy-next door Davis

By Cate McCurry

Published 19/01/2016

Will Merrick as Steve Davis, Luke Treadaway as Alex Higgins and James Bailey as Jimmy White
Will Merrick as Steve Davis, Luke Treadaway as Alex Higgins and James Bailey as Jimmy White
Alex Higgins
Alex and Lynn with their daughter Lauren after his 1982 world title win

The portrayal of Northern Ireland snooker hero Alex Higgins in a new comedy drama has been praised for its "passionate intensity" which captures the star's troubled life.

The Rack Pack explores the rivalry between the unpredictable, often outrageous Higgins and the quiet, unflappable Englishman Steve Davis.

The 90-minute movie, which aired exclusively on BBC iPlayer on Sunday, stars Luke Treadaway as Alex 'Hurricane' Higgins in his late 20s and early 30s as he squanders millions on drink, drugs and gambling.

Directed by Brian Welsh, the film features the glory days of the '70s and '80s snooker scene, when huge characters became household names.

Further Reading

Review: The Rack Pack, unlike flawed genius of Alex Higgins, was amateur show  

The story tells of the rivalry between the Belfast-born man, whose natural talent and showmanship transformed the image of the traditional game and captivated audiences across the country, and Steve 'The Nugget' Davis, played by Will Merrick, who under the guidance of manager Barry Hearn (Kevin Bishop) dominated the sport throughout the '80s and ushered in a new era of professionalism.

The film, which is the first for the BBC's catch-up service, has been applauded by critics.

While it was billed as a comedy, Ben Dowell of the Radio Times said the feature film is more a "tragedy than a comedy".

"The centrepiece of this delightful little film is Alex 'Hurricane' Higgins, played with passionate intensity by Luke Treadaway," he said.

"It has its funny moments but this is more of a tragedy than a comedy, and a pretty mesmerising one at that. The hapless, brilliant figure of Higgins and all those titanic battles in The Crucible, deserve their moment."

The film is written by Shaun Pye, Mark Chappell and Alan Connor, who are the team behind A Young Doctor's Notebook.

Rachel Ward from the Daily Telegraph also wrote that the comedy was "gentle".

"The rivalry between Alex Higgins and Steve Davis was so tense, it is difficult to imagine snooker ever creating such drama again," she said.

"The film was billed as a comedy, and it was certainly true of the first half. The humour was gentle, coming from a wry recognition of the era's excesses."

Phil Harrison, from the Guardian, said: "Luke Treadaway and Will Merrick enjoy themselves as broad, even scurrilous, caricatures of Alex Higgins and Steve Davis, respectively.

"This narrative thrust is a slight over-simplification but does make for high drama." Reviewer Louisa Mellor from the online magazine, Den of Geek, said: "Though billed as a comedy drama, to its credit the film isn't blind to the tragedy of Higgins's binges.

"As a comedy, The Rack Pack is much more successful. The early odd-couple pairing of Hurricane Higgins and clean-cut Steve "I'm so boring my nickname is Steve Davis" Davis is huge fun.

"Will Merrick makes a very good Davis, but the comic high point is Kevin Bishop as his canny, jovial manager Barry Hearn. Bishop is great in The Rack Pack, his scenes are kept light and bright, even when delivering home truths to Treadaway's desperate Higgins.

"The script also has its moments, most of them filthy and pouring out of Higgins' mouth."

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