Skip to main content
film review
  • The Beautiful Game
  • Directed by: Thea Sharrock
  • Written by: Frank Cottrell Boyce
  • Starring: Bill Nighy, Micheal Ward, Susan Wokoma, Callum Scott Howells.
  • Classification: G; 124 mins
  • Opens: March 29

The only thing perhaps surprising about The Beautiful Game is that it’s based on an actual annual sporting event – the Homeless World Cup, which will take place in Seoul this year. Interestingly, a Korean film called Dream – also centred around this tournament, and also a Netflix production – came out last year. Since I’ll watch pretty much anything with Park Seo-joon in it, I watched it then. (Bonus: K-pop star IU is the co-lead.) But more on Dream later.

The Beautiful Game, as the title suggests, pretty much wears its heart and storyline on its football jersey. (I am not even going to bother calling the game soccer.) Clearly the script pretty much wrote itself. A team of British unhoused players get a chance to play at this international tournament taking place in Rome. They are led by Mal (Bill Nighy), a retired pro footballer, who assembles and trains the team with equal parts charm and empathy, along with generous doses of whimsy.

Of course, you need one player who doesn’t quite have the team spirit. That would be Vinny (Micheal Ward), who at first scoffs at the idea of being put in the same category as the rest of the team. He’s got a car and job, he clarifies. “Logistics,” he throws out, when asked where he works. Mal and other team members know he’s bluffing. Circumstances unfold that see Vinny eventually joining Team England at the Homeless Cup. But he’s got several chips on his shoulder to get over.

Ultimately, the film offers stories about prejudices and a series of redemptions, with lots of fun little bits thrown in. Take the way Mal talks about bringing the best of England to Rome – tailoring and football. Or the camaraderie between the Brits, once they get dribbling.

Since it’s an international tournament, we also get to see other teams and their particular trials and tribulations. The South African group is headed by formidable nun Protasia (Susan Wokoma), who is equally caustic and compassionate when it comes to defending her team – and a little crafty. The Japanese team initially goes rogue, even though their manager Mika (Aoi Okuyama) is trying to instill ideas like loyalty and pride in the players, while rehearsing British slang like “Get stuck in!” And, what’s an international tourney without Team USA.

You can see the ending from a mile away. But that does not stop you from cheering the various teams of unhoused players. “Every player has a story” is a constant refrain. The Beautiful Game reminds us that, while also serving up some lovely vistas of Rome in the summer. In some ways, it’s just as effective as a documentary could have been, weaving in plotlines that are clearly inspired by the lives of people on the margins. Incidentally, Colin Farrell, who is a producer of this film, was also part of the documentary on the event called Kicking It (2008).

The Beautiful Game shines because of Nighy. He plays Mal with a light touch, almost disappearing into the background when not speaking, but still guiding his co-stars along. And all of them play their own parts in carrying the story forward. Director Thea Sharrock has done a remarkable job tying all the threads together.

In that sense, The Beautiful Game is quite different from Dream – which took a far more cynical approach. In Dream, Park’s role is that of a disgraced pro football player who takes a gig coaching the Korean team participating in the Homeless World Cup to restore his image. IU plays a jaded producer who wants to make a documentary that will be a ratings hit and is not beyond choosing players for their stories versus talent. There’s a similar group of players, but they all rally together in the end.

The Beautiful Game is a sunnier film, and one I would not mind rewatching with my family over the long weekend. Might inspire us to go out and kick a ball around on warmer days ahead.

In the interest of consistency across all critics’ reviews, The Globe has eliminated its star-rating system in film and theatre to align with coverage of music, books, visual arts and dance. Instead, works of excellence will be noted with a critic’s pick designation across all coverage. (Television reviews, typically based on an incomplete season, are exempt.)

Interact with The Globe