Saturday 20 July 2019

"The Edge" (Guardian 19/07/19)

The Edge ***
Dir: Barney Douglas. Documentary with: Andrew Strauss, Andy Flower, Kevin Pietersen, Graeme Swann. 95 mins. Cert: 15

The stars align around certain releases. Landing days after last Sunday’s extraordinary scenes at Lords, Barney Douglas’s documentary account of the reinvention of English cricket under the aegis of coach Andy Flower and captain Andrew Strauss counts as almost as well-timed as a Joe Root cover drive. That World Cup final demonstrated how, at its best, this sport writes its own outlandish script. What Douglas underlines – defying decades of filmmaker indifference – is that cricket can indeed be cinematic, at once widescreen (the Sky archives have been raided for aerial shots of packed stadia in sundappled locales) and close-up in its duels between batsmen and bowlers. Unpredictable, too: some intriguing turn in this narrative elevates the film a notch or two over standard sports-doc fodder.

It’s primarily, Douglas realises, a matter of squad management. England’s rise to number one in the rankings is described firsthand by the flinty Flower, circumspect Strauss and key personnel (droll Jimmy Anderson, larky Graeme Swann), each deployed, as on the pitch and in their subsequent media careers, to find some new angle on the often grinding and convoluted business of five-day cricket. Time and distance allows for a sensitive re-evaluation of the Kevin Pietersen situation, that Twitter-heightened flashpoint that threatened to undo burgeoning morale – and which evidently remains a sore spot in certain quarters. Here, Douglas opens the door to sports psychology, and the film starts to reposition itself as a more nuanced proposition than the flagwaver it initially presented as.

The Edge’s second half provides an unexpected analysis of the cost Flower’s militarised push for glory took on his troops, seeing off ten years of post-match interview spin to pursue a more candid line of testimony. Wicketkeeping warrior Matt Prior concedes “life as a professional sportsman doesn’t necessarily lend itself to you being a good person – because it’s about winning”; a painfully vulnerable Jonathan Trott breaks down in tears. Toby Jones’ narration sounds purplish by comparison, but there’s something useful (and very English) in the way Douglas interrupts this moment of sporting celebration to sound a cautionary note, and offer another reminder of why these elongated, intensely pressurised matches are referred to as Tests. Let’s wish the new guard Ben Stokes-levels of luck. 

The Edge is now playing in selected cinemas, ahead of its DVD release on Monday.

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