Every now and again I come across a film that lifts the spirit. Once is such a film and Marvellous is another. Last night Kate and I were looking for something to watch on T.V. and I had seen a trailer for Marvellous, thought it looked interesting, so persuaded Kate to watch it. The film is a biopic of the life of Neil Baldwin and it is glorious. Neil is someone who many have dismissed as having 'special needs' and yet his life affirming attitude to situations and people demonstrates that time and again he is the one ministering to the needs of others.
Marvellous follows Neil's exploits as a circus clown, his work at Keele University and his time as kit man with Stoke City during the tenure of manager Lou Macari. Neil's relationships with his mother, clergy, friends and footballers are explored with humour and humanity. The subtitle of this blog is 'reflections on faith, family, film and football' and in a sense that is what Marvellous is all about. Neil is a Christian and his faith is portrayed with a sympathetic touch, rarely seen on television or in film, as is the vicar with whom Neil develops a lasting friendship. There is some gentle ribbing about the Anglican Church but it is portrayed in a positive, even affectionate, light.
Neil's mother is the rock who sustains him through life and the portrayal of the relationship is beautifully judged, particularly his mother's fears for Neil as she approaches the end of her life. Some of the moments between the two are heart-rending, not least when Neil is visiting his mum in a care home.
The film experiments with format in a way reminiscent of Dennis Potter. In several scenes the masterful actor Toby Jones, who plays Neil, is in character in dialogue with the real Neil Baldwin. There are also scenes with Lou Macari, then manager of Stoke City, commenting on some of the incidents portrayed in the film. These never interrupt the narrative flow and enhance our understanding of Neil's character and relationships. There are several moments reminiscent of Woody Allen's Zelig.
Football is central to the film as it is to Neil's life. A committed Stoke City supporter, Neil strikes up an extraordinary relationship with Macari leading to his appointment as kit man. At one stage Macari even plays Neil in a testimonial game against Aston Villa and later comments that Neil is the best signing he ever made at Stoke City. There is plenty of cruel banter from some of the footballers and at one stage a player calls Neil a 'Mong', however, Neil gives as good as he gets and there is an hilarious incident when Neil takes his revenge with the players' underpants. A favourite moment is a scene recounting an incident when Macari is interviewed about a new signing he has made. The genuine video on which the scene is based is embedded at the end of this post and I defy you not to laugh.
A recurring theme is the way that Neil mentions famous people who he knows. Others dismiss his fantasising only to discover that he really has met these people, can count some as genuine friends and has the pictures and signatures to prove it. In the end you feel that these people felt privileged to have known Neil rather than the other way round.
Marvellous is a wonderful account of a life well lived and enriching the lives of others. Kate summed the film up when she commented at the end that it was everything Ricky Gervais's Derek tries but fails to be.
And here's that video as promised:
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