Saturday, November 14, 2020

The Three Kings - another outstanding and ambitious sporting documentary from Jonny Owen

I'm really looking forward to seeing The Three Kings documentary about the lives of Jock Stein, Bill Shankly and Matt Busby, all former miners from the Scottish coalfields who shaped the destiny and identities of Glasgow, Liverpool and Manchester. There's been a bit of a buzz around at work about it because it features footage from the North West Film Archive, but I'm particularly pleased for the director Jonny Owen, who has form in this emerging genre of storytelling.

The first of his films I saw was the high energy celebration of Brian Clough's Nottingham Forest winning the European Cup, I Believe in Miracles. It's a wonderfully warm and inclusive tale, and you can tell that the players enjoyed their interviews and encounters with Jonny. The funky soundtrack added something really special too, evoking the rhythms of that team and the refreshing way they broke the mould.

Next up was Don't Take Me Home, which blended behind the scenes footage with the fan experience of Wales at the European Championships in 2016. It wasn't just about the football, it can never just be about the football, and sometimes it takes someone with drive to tell that story, someone who gets it. Me and my eldest lad Joe met Jonny in London just after he'd got back from France and was putting the film together. I know I go on about people I've met and bore the arse off you all with my namedropping but he really struck me then as a very special talent. We only recorded a podcast together, with our mutual friend Mark Webster, but I've not heard anything since that contradicted that view I formed in the space of that afternoon together.  He's not only compellingly passionate about the things that really matter to him, but also hyper aware of how sport forms cultural and emotional bonds between people, way beyond the field of play. His background in the South Wales valleys also forms his frame of reference, rather than the baggage of the place he's escaped from, as many other film makers and artists often define themselves. 

As well as the historical footage that he's pulled together with the help of Will McTaggart at the archive, the film also includes musical contributions from, amongst others, Richard Hawley, the musician and songwriter from Sheffield who feels like an incredibly good fit for this project. 

Sporting documentaries can be a bit hit and miss, like musical ones, as I found with the unexpected delights of the Style Council Long Hot Summers film on Sky Arts. It takes effort, access and a burning passion for the subject. I don't normally do enthusiastic previews, but this will be a banger, I guarantee it. 

POST SCRIPT: I’ve seen it now and it’s absolutely magnificent in every way, I particularly enjoyed a cameo by Granada TV cub reporter Tony Wilson in 1974. It's available on Apple TV, Prime and Showtime, and DVD. I would happily go and see it again in a cinema when they reopen.

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