Shooting for Socrates: Dormer scores with poignant footie flick
Andrew Johnston cheers on this new film set amid Norn Iron's famous 1986 World Cup clash with the mighty Brazil
In recent years, there have been almost as many films set in Northern Ireland as there have been football movies, so it was perhaps just a matter of time until 'our wee country' took on the 'beautiful game' in cinemas. Set against the backdrop of the 1986 Fifa World Cup, when tiny Northern Ireland took on the might of Brazil, director James Erskine's Shooting for Socrates is a champion David and Goliath story.
But as compelling as the battle between Northern Ireland manager Billy Bingham's (John Hannah) rag-tag 'boys in green' and the world-beating Brazilians, captained by the enigmatic Socrates de Souza (Sergio Mur) is, it's the characters on the film's sidelines that score the biggest.
This means that for viewers with little interest in footie, the flick is rich enough to sustain attention over its hour-and-a-half running time.
The opening credits give us the usual newsreel footage of riots, sectarian graffiti and Army convoys moving through rubble-strewn streets, suggesting a rather gritty endeavour awaits, but for the most part, Shooting for Socrates plays for pure entertainment value. And no one in the movie is more entertaining than Conleth Hill, a boldly be-wigged standout as idiosyncratic UTV sports journalist Jackie Fullerton.
While some of his fellow actors go for the kind of ostentatious 'Norn Iron' accent you only seem to hear on screen, Hill essays the enunciated lilt and faintly camp mannerisms of the veteran broadcaster to brilliant comedic effect.
It'll be evocative to those who grew up watching Sportscast or Good Evening Ulster on telly, but should also transfix international audiences, who may be experiencing the magic of Fullerton for the first time.
Shooting for Socrates' other big winner is the father-son pairing of the always engaging Richard Dormer and Co Donegal's burgeoning child star Art Parkinson, who, since filming was completed, has become an unlikely participant in several Hollywood blockbusters.
Back in Belfast, Dormer's philosophy-loving elder tries to teach his football-mad son about the nature of compromise before the Troubles has a chance to poison him.
It's a nice portrayal of the positive influence sports can have on youngsters from aggrieved backgrounds.
Elsewhere, Erskine and co-writer Marie Jones's script knocks out some very neat one-liners. Bingham is described as being "tighter than a camel's a****** in a sandstorm" and the 'secretive' squad selection process as having "more leaks than the Titanic", while one of the players' dads remarks about a baby-faced British solider: "I've got socks older than him."
Produced by Victoria Gregory, who made the documentaries Man on Wire and Senna, the look and feel of 1980s Northern Ireland is authentically recreated, right down to the naff fashions and a string of Stiff Little Fingers classics on the soundtrack.
The niche nature of Erskine's tale means Shooting for Socrates probably won't take the multiplexes by storm, but it certainly earns its place alongside the likes of Bend It Like Beckham, Goal! and The Damned United in the Premier League of football films.