Seeing ‘Wimbledon’ in Wimbledon

Seeing the film ‘Wimbledon’ at the Wimbledon Odeon wasn’t quite like seeing ‘Casablanca’ in Casablanca (not that I have done that, alas). Nor do ‘Wimbledon’ and ‘Casablanca’ have a lot in common: ‘Casablanca’ one of the great movies of all time, ‘Wimbledon’ surely one of the worst ever made, even by the sad standards of most recent British films. Clichéd, implausible, saccharine, maudlin, above all tedious beyond description — even more tedious than watching actual tennis, if such a thing be possible. The grossly protracted wide-screen close-ups of leading man Paul Bettany’s great moon-like face linger, cringe-making, in the memory. The love scenes between Bettany and girly, skittish Kirsten Dunst make you hide your face in embarrassment. The script seems to have been plagiarised from an original prepared for the British Tourist Board to provide gullible foreigners with a glamorised image of London. One imagines the script conference: "So this place Wimblydon is in London England, right? So we have scenes in TRAFFalga Square, right, and Piccadilly Circus, right, and that damn rotating wheel thing, OK? And this tennis guy stays at the Dorchester hotel, we got stock footage of that, and they go to Brighton, ditto, right?" As for pleasant, leafy Wimbledon, it doesn’t get a look in apart from the tennis stadium itself, the film’s real star.

True, the tennis sequences are skilfully done — but there are an awful lot of them, and they go on interminably with absolutely no hint of suspense, since it’s painfully obvious from the first frames that Bettany is going to confound all predictions and, although a lousy tennis player, he’s going to win Wimbledon and get his girl, virtually simultaneously. The acting doesn’t begin to pass muster, and the only really professional performances, by Eleanor Bron and the ever reliable Sam Neill, only serve to show up the amateurishness of the rest. Heaven knows what those two old troupers thought they were doing in this dire and embarrassing production. I shudder to think of it being offered to American audiences.

The movie loses 6–0, 6–0, 6–0. Give it a miss!

7 October 2004

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