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

By Laurence White

Published 19/01/2016

Dennis Taylor, as depicted in the movie
Dennis Taylor, as depicted in the movie

The Rack Pack - the straight to BBC iPlayer film of the rivalry between snooker legends, Belfast's Alex Higgins and Romford's Steve Davis - is billed as a comedy drama.

That is to grossly overstate its attributes.

The comedy is not so much laughter provoking as cringe producing.

It is as if some schoolboys had got hold of the script and inserted their own jokes without anyone noticing until the cameras started to roll.

And surely Steve Davis - always satirically billed as 'boring Steve Davis' - will hope that none of his friends have iPlayer as he is depicted as some sort of snooker-playing Forrest Gump, moulded into a money-making machine by manager Barry Hearn.

Even the name of the film - a pun on Sinatra's Rat Pack - is a fair indication of the depth of drama that is to follow.

Seldom can broad brush stereotypes have been so faithfully reproduced as in the 87-minute long film.

And it needn't have been so.

Higgins, the snooker player, is well reproduced by Liam Treadaway, full of tics, exuding nervous energy and a sense of danger.

You always know he is going to go off the rails, it is just a matter of when and how.

But hookers in his dressing room and urinating in the sink does little for the memory of Higgins and nothing for the film.

Davis is a much shallower impersonation, perhaps the fault of the picture that is drawn for the actor to colour in.

As depicted here he would even have bored himself to death.

The filmmakers will argue that it is a drama, not a documentary, and that some dramatic licence is permissible.

Indeed it is but, in the case of Higgins, there was no real need for such licence.

This Belfast anti-hero was always starring in his own drama which was never going to end well.

If this movie is to be believed not only were the two players great rivals, but Higgins was obsessive about Davis and his success in the game.

Higgins believed - rightly, in large part - that he was the man who made the game popular.

It was a perfect storm - the advent of colour television (vital for snooker), the irrepressible genius of Higgins and the emergence of Davis and Hearn who had the vision to capitalise on the game's increasing popularity.

Higgins managed to turn a pub game into an exciting sport even if he lost as often as he won - but he always had viewers on the edge of their seats as he made the impossible shots and missed the straightforward (for him) ones.

And it is pitiful to see his decline during the film, echoing Dylan Thomas's famous line "rage, rage against the dying of the light".

Higgins always had the skill to beat anyone and on his day he also had the mental capacity as shown in one famous scene when he won the penultimate frame of the semi-final against his good - and increasingly only - friend Jimmy White on his way to his 1982 World Championship victory.

But the Hurricane kept blowing out.

It kept gathering up too much other detritus and was a spent force long before it should have been.

This is no masterful tribute to either Higgins or Davis, but evokes something of the era when snooker became a phenomenon and 18.5 million viewers stayed up one night to 1am to see Northern Ireland's Dennis Taylor beat Davis in the most memorable final of all time. Higgins made that possible but, as the film says at the end, his ultimate reward was the romantic obituaries.

This movie deserves to be buried much more quietly.

Belfast Telegraph

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