Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 23 September 2014

Who will play heroes and villains in Lance Armstrong saga?

Lance Armstrong

Who's going to play Lance in the inevitable film? I was pondering this the other day while grinding my way to work through the 17 sets of traffic lights (regular readers will know of my feeling on this) that blight the two-mile city-centre journey from my home to the office.

For a film about the most thrilling downfall of a sporting icon we've ever seen is surely inevitable.

Some would say the demise of Shoeless Joe Jackson wins the fall from grace prize. The star batter of the Chicago White Sox baseball team was implicated in a plot to throw the World Series in 1919 and, while eventually acquitted, suspicion lingered and he was banned for a year in a bid to clean up the sport.

His name is still blackballed from the Hall of Fame, but his real claim for the 'downfall' title rests with an eight-year-old boy, waiting for his hero outside the court one day.

The youngster looks Shoeless in the eye and says, "Say it ain't so, Joe." It's almost certainly a myth invented by a fevered hack, but the pathos of it makes my spine tingle even now.

But back to Lance. Armstrong we're talking about, of course. A Russian scholar, Vladimir Propp, once said that human experience could be boiled down to 31 narratives. Lance Armstong's story contains about five of them.

The triumph over adversity. The rise from poverty to hero. The overweening arrogance that comes before the fall. The weak who allow the bully to rise. It's all in there. It was the most fascinating story of 2012 by some distance.

But who would play him? That cold personality, expressionless face, dead eyes, the thin lips through which came the most horrible bile about those who tried to warn us.

She's a whore, he spat out about Emma O'Reilly (Helena Bonham Carter?), the brave massage therapist who testified against him.

It is certainly going to need someone who can immerse himself in a complex character, a man happy to play a hero on the world stage, to celebrate his fightback from cancer and make millions in the process. But also one who was able to switch off the voice that shouted, "This is a lie. You are a cheat."

That incredible double life, lived in the tungsten glare of fame and adulation, recalls Jimmy Savile, albeit the DJ's crimes were more heinous.

So it needs Method. And here only one man fits the bill. Step forward Daniel Day-Lewis. Yes folks, if you can stomach reading stories about how the serious one cycled around the world seven times, injected himself with real steroids and actually considered undergoing chemotherapy, even though he didn't have cancer, just to "understand" Lance's motivation, Day-Lewis might be your man.

On the set of Lincoln, where he plays the Oscar-nominated lead, even director Steven Spielberg took to calling Day-Lewis "Mr President" on days off! He's a shoo-in.

But there is another part of the story that is unlikely to have star billing. So low has journalism fallen in the public's eye at the moment I can't see Tom Cruise begging to play David Walsh.

But it was sports reporter Walsh and his newspaper, the Sunday Times, that took on Armstrong and eventually won. Walsh wrote that Armstong was a cheat and took years of abuse from the cycling world for his pains. The seven-time Tour de France-winning fraud sued them for £1m, but they stuck to their guns while others in the sports reporting pack rolled over to have their tummies tickled.

Walsh's story didn't find its way to Lord Justice Leveson's hearings on the Press. Funny that. And here's more food for thought for the illiberal liberals who would impose statutory regulation on our newspapers.

Who was the proprietor who stuck by his reporter and newspaper throughout? Who believed in the story and had enough power himself to resist the Establishment cover-up?

Could it be the arch-enemy of the free world, the devil incarnate himself? Liam Neeson as Rupert Murdoch, anyone?

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