Michael Atherton: A Childhood Hero


It’s Trent Bridge, 1998 and England are playing South Africa in an enthralling Test Match. At the same time the just turned 12-year old me is on a family holiday in Skegness and sat watching the coverage in one of the local pubs. What followed was one of the most compelling and intense periods of sport I have ever seen.

The spell from Allan Donald, South Africa’s premier fast bowler was quite simply brutal. Bouncer was followed by bouncer as his anger and frustration at not being able to make the breakthrough, partially due to a dropped catch and some ordinary umpiring, was channeled into a fearsome assault on England. Facing the barrage were Nasser Hussain and predominantly Michael Atherton.

If you haven’t seen Atherton bat through that spell then I recommend a quick trip over to YouTube. The opening bat survived through a mixture of skill, defiance and sheer bloody-mindedness to carry England to a crucial victory. It’s one of the great sporting battles I have seen and one of the many examples I could point to as to why despite my enjoyment of 50 over and T20 cricket, test matches will still be the ultimate.

It wasn’t the first time that Athers had thwarted the South African attack. In the 1995-96 tour he had played the ultimate captains innings. His innings of 185 not out from a mammoth 492 balls was an incredible performance to save a test match for his side and once again demonstrated that sheer stubborn grit that was synonymous with him as a cricketer.

If you look at Atherton’s career stats they look decent without being outstanding. After 115 test matches he ended with a batting average of 37.69. Generally when people are looking back on a career an average of 40+ is the sign of a quality test batsman. Statistics for all their ubiquity in cricket don’t always tell the full story of a player though. Look at Andrew Flintoff, Atherton’s fellow Lancastrian who finished with neither outstanding batting or bowling averages, but was crucial to England’s success.

Atherton’s value to his side was significantly greater than that average suggests. Firstly as an opening batsman he had the misfortune to play in an era where almost every side had an outstanding group of fast bowlers. Donald, Pollock, McGrath, Gillespie, Lee, Ambrose, Walsh, Wasim and Waqar were all regular competitors. It’s also fair to say that pitches generally offered more for the bowler in his era, meaning he was facing most of the outstanding bowlers of the last few decades on pitches doing plenty against a new ball.

More than that though Atherton was a man who for a long period carried the weight of the England team on his back. Growing up as an England cricket fan in the 1990s was a pretty thankless task at times. As captain for much of that time he had to deal with the pretty catastrophic mismanagement of the side and victories were scarce. If he lost his wicket early there was a palpable feeling of ‘here we go again’. He was the backbone of the side and showed a level of fight and determination that never seemed to dip whatever the circumstances. Something all the more remarkable given that he also suffered from chronic back problems.

As I say growing up in the 1990s as an England fan was tough. It still feels slightly wrong to me that their is a generation of fans for whom the Ashes series of 2005 would have been their first and therefore they are significantly more used to seeing England win than lose. What it did do was make you appreciate what you had got and in Atherton we had a leader and a fighter. There were arguably more gifted batsmen around at the time, Mark Ramprakash, Graeme Hick and John Crawley who could never quite overcome the uncertainty around the team to establish them and Nasser Hussain, Alec Stewart and Graham Thorpe all finished with higher averages, but Atherton was always my hero.

He showed that you could stand up and fight and though you might lose some along the way you could also succeed. Since he retired he has gone on to become one of the most well respected journalists and broadcasters around and continues to show himself to be an incredibly impressive individual.

Today is Atherton’s 49th birthday and it will be 16 years in August since he played his final test match. Despite the passing of time he remains one of my favourite all-time cricketers and provided me with some of the moments that helped me fall in love with the game in the first place.

Happy Birthday Athers.

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8 Actors Who Won’t Play Doctor Who

Being a fan of a massive show like Doctor Who means there will always be things surrounding it that slightly irritate you. Fortunately I’m usually pretty good at shaking off these things and focusing instead on the multitude of reasons I love the show. However, one element that does consistently frustrate me is the speculation that surrounds the casting of a new Doctor.

For the wider media it’s a great opportunity to fill some column inches. Most papers or websites will carry a few stories about who could be the next Doctor and all will generally be wide of the mark. These lists normally feature the same faces each time with the addition of the latest rising star who has already grown too big to be a likely candidate for the role. Fortunately for the various websites and media outlets with space to fill they can usually rely on the bookmakers to feed a little fuel to the fire and keep the story going.

Usually the lists created by the bookies are even less imaginative with this time out a list containing most of the names rumoured last time who didn’t get the part, the previous two Doctors before Capaldi and practically everyone who has ever appeared in an episode of Broadchurch. Recently some bookies stopped taking bets on Death in Paradise and My Family actor Kris Marshall with many people seemingly thinking this meant he was definitely the choice this time around siting the fact that they had done the same thing before Capaldi was cast.

While I can’t categorically state that Marshall won’t get it I have my doubts that he will. It is true that bets were stopped on Capaldi, but that was just a day or two before he was officially announced in the part and it is worth remembering that months earlier the same thing had happened with Rory Kinnear until he had to come out and deny he had been offered it. More likely for me given that up until very recently Chris Chibnell has still been busy with Broadchurch is that we are still some time away from finding out who will be the next Doctor, which means more lists of potential castings.

So using the principle that if you can’t beat them join them I give you my list of eight actors who definitely, definitely, definitely won’t be the next Doctor, but would probably be quite good if they were.

Roger Allam

Roger Allam

I am firmly of the opinion that EVERYTHING is made better by the inclusion of Roger Allam. He is quite simply a terrific actor. Part of the key to making a successful Doctor is the ability to make the comedy work while still having the authority for the more serious scenes. Allam has proved his perfect comedy timing in two of the finest sitcoms of recent times The Thick of It, alongside Peter Capaldi and Cabin Pressure. He also has the necessary authority along with one of the finest voices known to man. At 63 he would be the oldest actor to play the Doctor and this is one of the reasons that it almost definitely, definitely won’t happen.

Celia Imrie

celia imrie

Scottish with a slightly stern look and a background in both drama and comedy. Does that remind you of anyone? Of course Imrie has already appeared in Doctor Who alongside Matt Smith in The Bells of St John, but as we know a previous appearance is hardly much of a barrier to taking the lead role. It’s also certainly not out of the question that this could be the time when we see the Doctor regenerate into a woman. What is significantly less likely is that Capaldi will regenerate into a 64 year old woman and for that reason it almost definitely, definitely won’t happen.

Daniel Kaluuya

daniel-kaluuya

Another actor who has demonstrated an ability to switch between comedy and drama and succeed at both. Kaluuya was named on a few of these type of lists after previous regenerations and he has proven himself as a genuinely terrific actor. Since then he has moved to the States and is currently starring in the well received horror movie Get Out. With his star in the ascendancy he is unlikely to want to be tied down to the kind of production schedule Doctor Who operates so this looks like a Doctor we have missed out on. For that reason it almost definitely, definitely won’t happen.

Timothy Spall

tim spall

Spall fits nicely into the Roger Allam camp of improving everything that he is in. He has been one of Britain’s finest character actors for years and seems to just get better with age. It feels surprising actually that he has never appeared in Who given his regular appearances on British TV over the last several decades. At 6o years of age he isn’t massively older than Capaldi, but with the show ever more fast paced it’s likely there would be doubts about his ability to keep up with the physical side of the role. For that reason it almost definitely, definitely won’t happen.

Doc Brown/Ben Bailey Smith

doc brown

There is a rich tradition of comedians making appearances in Doctor Who. Matt Lucas will be a regular companion in the coming series and Catherine Tate was brilliant as Donna Noble alongside David Tennant. Brown’s acting career is limited, but he is a huge talent who has shown an ability to turn his hand to almost anything. With a new showrunner coming in it would be a gamble to hand the lead to such a relatively inexperienced actor and with Brown having success as a comedian, actor, children’s writer and presenter it’s far from certain he would want to be tied down anyway. For that reason this almost definitely, definitely won’t happen.

Isy Suttie

isy suttie

Sticking with the comedy/music theme Suttie is most likely to be familiar to people as Dobby from Peep Show. She is a more than capable actor and talented comedian who would bring some of the Doctor’s inherent eccentricity to the role. Like Brown with a successful stand-up career her acting credits are relatively limited and if we do see a shift to a female Doctor it is likely they would want to cast a more established name. For that reason this almost definitely, definitely won’t happen.

Toby Jones

tobyjones

Another of Britain’s finest character actors Jones’ CV is varied and extensive covering everything from the Marvel Cinematic Universe to the low-key and simply wonderful BBC4 sitcom The Detectorists. Once again the programme makers would have to navigate the fact that he has already appeared in the series as the Dream Lord, however given that the character was revealed to be a manifestation of the Doctor’s darker impulses that wouldn’t be too difficult. Once again the biggest challenge would most likely be to get Jones to tie himself down to one project given the amount of varied work he receives and my suspicion is also that after Capaldi they will move towards a younger Doctor. For those reasons this almost definitely, definitely won’t happen.

Jason Isaacs

jason isaacs

At the risk of turning this into a list of ‘friends of Wittertainment’ (Hello to Jason Isaacs) I include Isaacs as an actor with the quality and range to take the role of the Doctor in his stride. He is also an actor who has shown a willingness to work on longer television series. Unfortunately our American friends got there first and last week it was announced he would be helming the new Star Trek series. For that reason this one definitely, definitely won’t happen.

 

Moyes: In or Out?

David Moyes

After yesterday’s game against Burnley I typed David Moyes’ name into the search bar on twitter to see what the reaction had been. Quick as a flash I was given the option to search for ‘David Moyes sacked.’ Was that an assumption from fans across the country that another limp display, coupled with a visit from our traditionally trigger happy chairman meant a decision had been made or was it wishful thinking on the part of our own fans? Either way it feels like the pressure is building on Moyes again. Whether that pressure is entirely external or whether the club are considering other possibilities is ultimately the important question.

After years of instability and managerial changes there has been little appetite to go down that route again and sack Moyes. Famously Ellis Short had tried to get the Scotsman to the club on numerous previous occasions and so would be reluctant to jettison his man after less than a season. Added to that is the strong relationship between Chief Executive Martin Bain who is also the man primarily advising Short on footballing matters. It will be Short’s decision whether Moyes stays or goes, and we know that he isn’t above a ruthless cull if he thinks it would secure Premier League football, but Bain’s support counts for a lot and it feels like while he is in place Moyes is relatively secure. Which begs the question, should he be?

With Middlesbrough axing Aitor Karanka mid-week Sunderland are now the only team in the bottom six not to have made a managerial change this season. That doesn’t necessarily mean they are wrong not to, at least two of those sides are likely to still go down despite their change, but it does represent something of an anomaly that the bottom team haven’t acted. Undoubtedly the clubs recent history of sacking managers and the uncertainty and instability that has followed is a large part of that. Moyes’ side are in their second dire run of the season following the clubs earlier worst ever start to a Premier League campaign. Both runs would have seen the end of previous managers reign at the club, but the desire for time and stability has prevented any drastic action being taken. In many ways it’s an admirable change of direction for Short and the club. A show of faith in a manager with a good career record to be able to turn the club around. The question is are the club showing faith in Moyes because they genuinely believe he is the man to turn things round or is it because they just don’t want to sack another manager and face all the inevitable upheaval that will cause.

On the pitch with the exception of a brief period of encouragement mid-season there has been little sign that we have found the man to lead us forward. More worrying still is the sense that Moyes himself doesn’t really believe. He was criticised early in his tenure for his fairly negative demeanour and his statement that a goalless draw against West Brom was probably the best we were capable of was an early concern. Moyes did an amazing job at Everton on fairly limited resources, but while his tenures at Manchester United and Real Sociedad were not quite the unmitigated disasters that they are sometimes portrayed as they were not successful either. It’s fair then to question whether he himself has lost a little faith in his own ability. His experience at United in particular must have been a huge dent to his confidence as he received his dream job, one of the biggest in world football and found himself out of work almost before he had got his feet under the table. That leaves him attempting to rebuild his career with Sunderland.

In the modern game a strong reputation cultivated over years in the job can be seriously damaged in the space of just a couple of months. With that in mind his next choice of job was always going to be crucial and he must be questioning the decision he made. He is now in a situation where if he left the club he would surely find it difficult to find another job in the Premier League. If he isn’t happy and he isn’t enjoying the job, and looking at the way he carries himself it’s hard to think that he is, then he still seems stuck with us. Whether we should be stuck with him is now the decision Short has to make.

Of course Moyes isn’t blessed with a hugely talented squad and after years of successive relegation scraps and underachievement it would be wrong to throw all the blame his way, but he hasn’t helped himself. As well as his generally negative attitude mentioned earlier he has also made some pretty odd tactical decisions. Yesterday’s decision to leave out Didier N’Dong was the latest to leave fans a little bemused. He has come under pretty constant criticism for not using Wahbi Khazri and while he may well have a point about his laziness at times it is hard to reconcile that with his faith in Adnan Januzaj who doesn’t exactly recall the Energizer Bunny when he plays. He was unfortunate that injuries meant that when a settled formation and style of play seemed to have been discovered he had to make a switch, but there’s a sense that he only stumbled on a working formula by mistake rather than judgement in the first place. That run of form with Victor Anichebe and Duncan Watmore providing support for Jermain Defoe represented the high point of his reign so far, but it was a light that only flickered briefly.

The amount of injuries that the club suffered from that point was unfortunate, but not wholly unexpected. Anichebe has famously been injury prone, while Kirchhoff, Cattermole and Rodwell have all been regular absentees over the years both for Sunderland and previous clubs. Added to that the fact Kone and N’Dong were always likely to miss games away at the African Nations Cup and it wasn’t too hard to see that the squad was always likely to be woefully short of depth, as well as quality. Which asks a question of Moyes’ transfer dealings. If as seems inevitable the club do drop to the Championship then a giant rebuilding job will be needed. For once we actually have a few salable assets which will hopefully bring some money to the club which can then be reinvested in the playing staff. Whoever is in charge therefore, whether it’s Moyes or someone else, has to be someone the club has faith in to spend that money wisely. The evidence so far isn’t great that Moyes should be that man. He has struggled to get signings over the line and when he has they have been a mixed bag at best. Papy Djilobodji has been a disaster, while his most expensive signing N’Dong has had a decent enough season without making the kind of impact that the club has needed to really lift them to a new level. Januzaj has been a disappointment as a loan signing while Jason Denayer has generally been fine. Away from that we have seen a collection of ex-Everton players, Pienaar past his best, Anichebe effective, but injured, Lescott barely used and recently Darron Gibson and probably the best of the bunch Bryan Oviedo.

I can easily imagine that Sunderland isn’t an easy sell for players right now. That may explain the raft of players joining who Moyes has worked with before. Players who see the opportunity to reunite with a manager they like and are therefore willing to put aside the clubs league position and the fact they could probably get better pay elsewhere. Nonetheless it’s an area we need to do better. It’s hard to believe that there aren’t players in the lower leagues who could have improved upon the likes of Pienaar and Lescott and it’s a legitimate alternative reading of Moyes’ business to wonder if a lack of knowledge of that market is why he has had to fall back on players he knows. It’s to be hoped that is a conversation that is happening behind the scenes and if Moyes isn’t able to demonstrate a knowledge of that market then now would be the time to find someone who can.

Even if a new man wasn’t able to turn things around quickly enough to salvage this season it would at least give them an opportunity to assess the current squad and who is up to the mark for what will be as ever a highly competitive Championship next season. Who that person would be is another question. We are used to hearing of the potential of Sunderland as a football club and the quality of the stadium and training facilities are undeniable. Years of struggles and managerial merry-go-rounds though mean attracting the biggest names is unlikely. Moyes’ choice to join us was in itself an indication that his star had fallen dramatically following his two most recent jobs. Gary Rowett was a name circulating with some regularity until he took the Derby job last week and Steve McClaren’s availability will strike fear into the hearts of Sunderland fans worldwide. What is clear is that whatever decision Ellis Short makes, be it to stick with Moyes or bring in a new man the club has the potential to go sharply in either direction from here.

His next decision has to be the right one.

The Most Consistent Doctor

A couple of nights ago I was relaxing by half watching the cricket from New Zealand while reading my book, the excellent Running Through Corridors: Vol. 2 by Robert Shearman and Toby Hadoke. In their diary of watching all the Doctor Who serials in order they had now passed the rightly lauded Holmes/Hinchcliffe era and had delved into the less consistent Tom Baker period. After putting the book down with every intention of heading off to bed instead a question crossed my mind. Which of the Doctor’s full run of serials is most consistently liked by fandom? We know that Baker or sometimes David Tennant usually top the favourite Doctor polls and we know that they also have a number of very highly rated serials. Overall though are their whole runs the most loved? Does Fear Her negate Blink or Underworld do the same for Genesis of the Dalek?

To try and find out I dug out my copy of Doctor Who Magazine, issue 474, which ran the results of their 50th anniversary poll of all broadcast serials up to that point. I then simply added up the placing for all the stories from each individual Doctor’s run and divided that total by the number of serials they appeared in to give me an average score. It isn’t the most foolproof way of satisfying my curiosity, but I nonetheless found the results quite interesting and on the off chance you may too I will present them to you here.

*As my aim was to discover, which of the Doctors is most consistently enjoyed across the stories they appear in I have included scores for multi-Doctor adventures provided they have played a significant part. For example, The first, second, third and firth Doctor all score for The Five Doctors, but the fourth Doctor does not as he doesn’t play a significant role.

Unplaced: Paul McGann, John Hurt and Peter Capaldi

With both Paul McGann and John Hurt only appearing in one full length serial each (technically Hurt appears in 2 as we see him introduced at the end of Name of the Doctor, but not for long enough for him to share Matt Smith’s score for that story) I can’t really add them to the list that follows. The poll was published before Peter Capaldi had officially begun his time as the Doctor with just his eyebrows having appeared on screen up to that point so he also misses out.

10. Sixth Doctor era

colin baker

Top Placed Story: Revelation of the Daleks (#70/241)

Lowest Placed Story: The Twin Dilemma (#241)

Average Story Rating: 169.88

You have to feel sorry for Colin whenever a poll takes place. Anyone who reads DWM or spends much time on Twitter will know that he isn’t a fan of them and you can kind of see why too. I’ve never been a fan of the basic ‘Who is your favourite Doctor’ question. I genuinely like them all and though I fall into the camp of people for whom the sixth Doctor era can be a struggle that is never down to Colin himself. Unfortunately the overall standard of story never quite gives him what he needs and that is reflected in this result. His highest placed story (and my favourite of his run) is Revelation of the Daleks, but placed at number 70 it is the lowest of any Doctor’s most popular story (TV Movie excepted) and with two of the four poorest rated stories it leads to this high average. Fortunately for fans of the wider Doctor Who universe Colin has been much better treated and one of the many great triumphs of Big Finish has been to give him the stories his Doctor deserved.

9. Seventh Doctor era

Sylvester McCoy

Top Placed Story: Remembrance of the Daleks (#10)

Lowest Placed Story: Time and the Rani (#239)

Average Story Rating: 145.08

Having grown up in the so-called ‘wilderness years’ of Doctor Who in the nineties I never really had an answer as to who was “my Doctor.” My introduction to the show came from my brother’s VHS collection and the occasional repeat on TV so each face was as familiar to me as the next. As the most recent Doctor I did feel a connection with McCoy though and I have a particular affection for this era, which leaves me a little disappointed to see it still score so low. For me their is a remarkably consistent run of serials once Andrew Cartmel as script editor really manages to take hold of the show, but clearly fandom still retains a different view. As well as Time and the Rani, Paradise Towers, Delta, Dragonfire and Silver Nemesis all feature in the nether regions of the poll, negating the better placings for the excellent Remembrance and Curse of Fenric. Despite that I will remain a fully paid up member of the McCoy-era fan club.

8. First Doctor era

William Hartnell

Top Placed Story: The Five Doctors (#25)/The Daleks (#46)

Lowest Placed Story: The Space Museum (#232)

Average Story Rating: 141.10

It’s probably not too much of a surprise that William Hartnell (and Richard Hurndall’s) Doctor doesn’t score as highly here. Not only may some newer fans not be as familiar with his stories, but there are also (as with Patrick Troughton) a significant number that we cannot see. This was also a time when the show was really discovering what it was and as a result there is an incredible variety of tone and genre to those first few series that would lessen in later years when individual script editors and producers would put their stamp on the series for their period on the show. That variety is one of the great charms of the first Doctor era, but it doesn’t promote a consistency and hence the relatively low placing for the man who helped forge the show that we all love.

7. Fifth Doctor era

peter davison

Top Placed Story: The Caves of Androzani (#4)

Lowest Placed Story: Time-Flight (#237)

Average Story Rating: 131.53

Peter Davison’s era as the Fifth Doctor climbs ahead of the First Doctor by virtue of having three stories, The Caves of Androzani, Earthshock and The Five Doctors all placed in the top 25. That he still falls well behind the Doctor in sixth place is because he also has five stories in the bottom 25, Time-Flight, The King’s Demons, Warriors of the Deep, Arc of Infinity and Four to Doomsday. Whether those stories all deserve to be where they place (I have a real soft spot for Four to Doomsday and have never quite been able to find the love for Earthshock that many do) it nevertheless demonstrates that the struggle for consistent storytelling that frustrated Davison himself is reflected in fan opinion of the era.

6. Eleventh Doctor era

matt smith

Top Placed Story: The Day of the Doctor (#1)

Lowest Placed Story: The Rings of Akhaten (#233)

Average Story Rating: 121.65

When DWM published their poll Matt Smith was just ending his time as the Doctor and his stories were fresh in the mind of fans, but without the sense of nostalgia around older Doctor’s adventures. With that in mind it will be interesting to see how his era rates in future polls. Here he scores well, but is the lowest placed of the new series Doctor eras.

5. Fourth Doctor era

tom baker 3

Top Placed Story: Genesis of the Daleks (#3)

Lowest Placed Story: Underworld (#236)

Average Story Rating: 114.73

So here we have the biggest surprise of the results. For many Tom Baker’s portrayal of the Doctor is definitive, but with such a long time in the Tardis and with such a different tone between his early and later adventures we get a very different result. The top 25 of the poll feature nine Baker era serials, eight of which come from the Hinchcliffe/Holmes producer/script editor partnership. His later stories are less well-loved though and as a result his average placing goes up and the Doctor’s with a shorter run at the part come out ahead.

4. Ninth Doctor era

Christopher Ecclestone

Top Placed Story: The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances (#7)

Lowest Placed Story: The Long Game (#205)

Average Story Rating: 108.89

Such has been the success of the show since he re-emerged on our screens in 2005 that it’s easy to forget how much of a gamble bringing Doctor Who back to television was. Had it failed then it is hard to see how it would have ever re-emerged. Fortunately everything went according to plan and the poll showed how well thought of the revamp still is. With only one series to his name there is a smaller sample size for the Eccleston Doctor, but his poorest rated story, The Long Game is far higher than every other Doctor’s lowest scorer demonstrating a consistent quality that set the foundations for the show to go from strength to strength.

3. Second Doctor era

patrick troughton

Top Placed Story: The War Games (#12)

Lowest Placed Story: The Space Pirates (#235)

Average Story Rating: 106.29

Patrick Troughton is often seen as ‘the Doctor’s Doctor’ and his era is still looked on incredibly fondly. The poll also gave a great indication of how the loss of stories from the first two Doctor’s era effects their popularity. Both The Web of Fear (#16) and The Enemy of the World (#56) went up in the poll after they were rediscovered and help to lift the era up this list. With the animation of Power of the Daleks proving a great success and the possibility of more stories being recreated in the future it’s likely that this era may become even more popular over the coming years.

2. Tenth Doctor era

David Tennant

Top Placed Story: The Day of the Doctor (#1)/Blink (#2)

Lowest Placed Story: Fear Her (#240)

Average Story Rating: 101.47

In much the same way as Tom Baker is the iconic Doctor of the classic era David Tennant seems to fulfill that role for the new series. His appearance in The Day of the Doctor only added to that and ensured he had a hand in both the top two in the poll. In total the Tennant Doctor has three stories in the top 10 with his era benefiting from excellent scripts from the likes of Steven Moffat and Paul Cornell.

1. Third Doctor era

jon pertwee

Top Placed Story: Inferno (#18)

Lowest Placed Story: The Time Monster (#222)

Average Story Rating: 96.31

So there we have it. The most consistently enjoyed era of Doctor Who according to the DWM poll results was the Third Doctor’s. In many ways that isn’t a surprise. Pertwee’s first season in the role sees four stories quite unlike anything Doctor Who had done before or would do again, but they are very highly thought of. From that period on the consistent partnership of Barry Letts and Terrence Dicks, coupled with a regular group of talented writers, Malcolm Hulke, Robert Holmes, Bob Baker and Dave Martin among them makes for a very consistent quality.

 

Rambo: First Blood

As the body count mounts up and credibility is stretched to breaking point in the Rambo sequels it is easy to forget what a gritty, down to earth movie First Blood is. Little of the silliness inherent in the later movies is on show in Sylvester Stallone’s first outing as special ops veteran John Rambo. Instead we get a brutal and visceral movie with a sympathetic lead character who could just about exist in the world we recognise.

Rambo as played by Stallone isn’t a typical action hero. When we first meet him it doesn’t take us too long to realise that all is not well in his world. He seems lost, alone and is clearly suffering the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder. Now it isn’t unusual to find an action hero suffering in this fashion at the start of a movie. For another example take Martin Riggs as played by Mel Gibson in the first of the Lethal Weapon franchise. There we see him mourning the death of his wife, broken, alone and on the verge of suicide. Over the course of the movie we see him find solace as he helps defeat the bad guys and then get accepted into the family of his new partner Murtaugh. It’s a terrific film, but it follows a fairly standard action formula. With First Blood we get something very different. Rambo isn’t given some sort of grand quest to triumph over, which will see him come out the other side a winner. The battle he faces here against the local law enforcement is partly of his own making as he artificially creates a situation where he can once again feel at home. There is no great triumph at the end and there is even something slightly pathetic as the fighting stops and neither side is left satisfied despite the carnage caused. In Lethal Weapon Riggs begins broken and ends fixed. That’s the way these movies usually work. Here Rambo begins broken and ends the movie even more so and that’s an incredibly brave filmmaking choice.

There is little doubt though that while Rambo may not be typical of the type of action hero we are used to, we are still supposed to identify him as the hero. When Colonel Trautman states that Rambo did everything he could to ensure the battle happened he is of course right. Our hero is a soldier in a world that doesn’t need him anymore so he jumps at the possibility to return to a situation and a world he understands. Every action he takes, from the decision to walk back towards town when the Sheriff tries to drive him away escalates the situation and puts fuel on the fire. Where the film succeeds is in making Rambo’s motivation for his actions believable. When he is ill treated by the Sheriff’s deputies and we see the flashbacks of his previous great battle we know that this isn’t a man just looking for trouble, but someone who has suffered great trauma and is paying the mental price for it. Of course it does no harm that the local wardens are so unpleasant and unlikeable. Jack Starrett as Galt is one of the nastiest pieces of work you’ll see on camera and helps the audience to identify exactly whose side we should be on. At times he can almost come across as a little too sadistic to be believable, but it feels necessary for the development of the plot. When he ultimately falls to his death from the police helicopter it’s impossible to feel any sympathy for such a brutal character. Rambo doesn’t kill him deliberately. He throws a rock up at the chopper after Galt, ignoring the orders of his Sheriff continues to shoot at him and as the vehicle spins he is thrown out to his death. It’s the only definite death in the film and an important one. Rambo tries to give himself up here, unwilling for anyone else to die, but his chasers are unwilling to listen to his pleas that it was an accident. As far as they are concerned he has killed one of their own and in continuing their manhunt they provoke their prey into full special ops mode. The film needs that death, that reason to tip both sides into a feeling that there is only one possible ultimate ending. It seems remarkable that there is only one death given the ever-mounting death tolls in the sequels, but here it is absolutely right. While Rambo can later gun down any number of sadistic Russians and still remain the hero of the piece here the balance is much more delicate. Yes the pursuing law enforcement are painted pretty unsympathetically, but it would still make for a different film if they were treated in that same fashion. Instead Rambo uses all his skills as a soldier to disable his enemy, and they certainly suffer some horrific injuries in the process, but when he tells Teasle that he could have killed them all you are left in no doubt that he is right. Not doing so ensures that he remains a character the audience can sympathise with.

In fact it’s hard not to sympathise with all the cast in those grim battle scenes in the forest. Violent they may be, but they are certainly not glorified. There is something visceral about the scenes and while Rambo may be in control over the out of their depth lawmen he is far from invulnerable. We see him cut, bruised and  exhausted in a way that again plays against the typical action hero trope of the all-conquering super human. It’s a technique that would be brilliantly used later when Bruce Willis took on the role of John McClane in the first Die Hard movie. It keeps the character more recognisably from our world and makes the carnage that surrounds him seem all the more real and horrific as a result. An effect further added to by Jerry Goldsmith’s score, which fits the action perfectly to a point where I imagine if I watched it with the sound muted I would still have it going in my head as I watched Rambo sprinting through the trees.

Fortunately Stallone’s Rambo is surrounded by other excellent performances, most notably by Brian Dennehy. There is something incredibly real about the way the Sheriff becomes almost fanatical in his desire to catch and kill Rambo to the detriment of all reason and common sense. There is a look of almost schoolboy guilt when the treatment Rambo had been subjected to at the jail is revealed, but it is a rare moment of doubt in his quest as he quickly recovers himself. Whether even he believes himself when he states Rambo should have come to him if he had been ill-treated rather than waging all out war is irrelevant. He has come too far to have doubts about the righteousness of his quest and can’t allow himself to feel sympathy for Rambo. He is Captain Ahab hunting Moby Dick and it’s an excellent portrayal. He is ultimately the villain of the piece, as he sits with Trautman under the impression Rambo is dead and speaks about his dissatisfaction that he didn’t pull the trigger himself, but he is a very human villain as opposed to the more extreme Galt.

So onto Richard Crenna as Trautman. His characterisation suffers most from the sequels and ultimately his decision to brilliantly spoof his own part in Hot Shots! Part Deux. Here his screen time is limited, but effective. He has an enigmatic quality and there is a clear sense throughout that he knows more than he is willing to make explicit. There’s also a duplicity about him. When the Sheriff asks what he would do if he saw Rambo, give him a great big hug or put a bullet in his head, he replies that he won’t know until he sees him and you believe him. In his returns the Trautman character would become more of a feature, a partner for Rambo and unfortunately what works well here in short moments on screen comes across as a bit silly given more focus and with the change in tone of those movies. There is little room for being enigmatic in a film with the lack of subtlety of Rambo 3.

He does of course share one of the stand out scenes of the movie as the General talks Rambo down from killing the Sheriff. Up to this point Stallone has put in an almost entirely physical performance. Here he creates some emotional weight as he breaks down in first anger and then sorrow. The scene is very effective and Stallone’s performance though not pitch perfect sells it well. While we have seen Rambo vulnerable before it has usually been with the knowledge that his skills still give him the upper hand. Here he falls apart and after seeing his near silent, focused and professional attitude to fighting back against his enemy to see him so emotionally broken is incredibly effecting. Fortunately Stallone gives it his all. The lines about not being able to find his colleagues legs could be very silly. There’s a darkly comic edge to the end of his traumatic speech, but the performance keeps it just the right side of credibility. It also manages to feel consistent with the character we have seen in the rest of the movie. This is the extreme broken version compared to the cold, calculated professional soldier we see at other times, but we have learnt enough about the character and his experiences for it to feel like two sides of the same person. In fact Rambo’s characterisation remains mostly solid throughout. Only once does he noticeably drop out of character when hijacking an army truck. He has the driver at gunpoint who then looks down at the gun, Rambo responds “Hey keep your eyes on the road. That’s how accidents happen.” It’s a funny line but feels tonally out of place given what we have seen before. In the sequels this kind of thing would happen more and more, most notably in Rambo 3 when he and Trautman are stuck in a trench being approached by seemingly the entire Russian army and when asked what to do replies “Well surrounding them is out.” It’s a line I love for its sheer ridiculousness and in a film that is mostly ludicrous doesn’t look quite so out of place. Here it’s a rare misstep in a film that takes its simple plot and with solid direction and performances raises itself to be a different and very successful take on the action genre.

Batting and the Fragility of Confidence

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Watching Virat Kohli bat in the recent series against England was akin to watching a man walk on air. His innings of 235 in the Mumbai test was the high point of a consistently outstanding run of scores that extended into a further double-hundred in the one-off test against Bangladesh at the start of February. It was a brilliant show of batsmanship from one of the giants of the modern game and helped his team to a comfortable series victory.

Kohli is wonderful to watch with an innate style and classiness to his batting. His cover drive is one of the great sites in the game and he has that ability so familiar in sub-continental batsmen to seemingly be able to manipulate the ball to any part of the ground with a simple flick of the wrists. Such was his control at the crease that it almost came as a surprise when eventually the opposition bowlers managed to find a chink in his armour and claim his wicket.

Contrast that to his first innings dismissal in the current test versus Australia in Bengaluru. Following scores of 0 and 13 in the first test he was dismissed leg before by Nathan Lyon attempting to leave a ball that would have crashed into his leg stump. It was the type of dismissal that speaks of a clouded mind and comes only with uncertainty and a dent in a usually unshakable confidence. It’s impossible to imagine the Kohli of the England series getting stuck so indecisively in two minds.

So in the space of less than a month what has changed? The answer is very little. His dismissal in the first innings of the first test was the type that often befalls a man in almost too good form, pushing out at a ball that could have been left. With his side struggling in the second innings he was bowled shouldering arms, expecting turn in the first indication that things might not be quite so smooth this series.

Confidence is a fragile thing for batsmen. Captaining India and being their best batsmen brings immense pressure and with his side massively under the cosh in a home series they were expected to dominate a dip in confidence is hardly surprising. Of course Kohli is far too good and far too much of a class act for his uncertainty to last, but in a strange way it’s refreshing to see that even the best in the world are human.

As an amateur cricketer I know all too well how quickly a good run can turn bad. I’ve played innings where it feels like I’ve been batting with a toothpick rather than a bat. When in-form everything feels instinctive. You watch the ball, your feet are in position and the ball comes out the middle of the bat without a second thought. Everything just flows. When out of form everything feels laboured. There is a desperation to feel bat on ball. You think about every movement and the ball seems to reach you so much quicker.

I’ve had some good moments as a batsman. I’m proud to say I’ve managed to pick up a couple of hundreds over the years, but I can’t say I have ever come close to feeling what it must be like to be Virat Kohli at his best. To say he is in a different class would be like saying Big Ben is a bigger timepiece than my wristwatch. Sport has a way of unifying even the greatest with the amateur player though and for a brief moment on Saturday morning as I watched the ball thud into the Indian captain’s pad and he confusedly called for the review I felt a definite kinship.

Sport is brilliant like that.

Wes Anderson Films Ranked

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There are few modern day directors with such an instantly recognisable style as Wes Anderson. His most recent release, 2014’s The Grand Budapest Hotel made it eight feature films as director and showcased a filmmaker of supreme confidence. It also cemented his place as one of my favourite directors. Such is the pleasure his work has given me that when trying to rank them in order of enjoyment it is very much a list of eighth best to best rather than worst to best. Here is my attempt, please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.

8. Bottle Rocket (1996)

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Anderson co-wrote Bottle Rocket, his debut feature with regular collaborator Owen Wilson (this also marks Wilson and brother Luke’s feature film debut). The story sees Anthony (Luke) rescue his friend Dignan (Owen) from a voluntary psychiatric unit only to become embroiled in his generally inept attempts to begin a life of crime.

Due to it’s low budget Bottle Rocket feels unpolished in a way that makes it stand out from Anderson’s later work and it struggled to find an audience on first release. It did garner positive critical response though and it is easy to see why. The ‘house style’ of Anderson isn’t quite clear yet, but there are early indications of the character relationships, snappy dialogue and offbeat humour that make his work so distinctive. For a debut feature it shows the promise of better things to come, a promise that Anderson delivered.

7. The Darjeeling Limited (2007)

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By the release of 2007’s The Darjeeling Limited Anderson was well into his stride. Wilson again stars this time alongside other Anderson regulars Jason Schwartzman and Adrian Brody. Though there are a number of impressive cameos these three shoulder the bulk of the movie in a slight deviation from the bigger ensemble casts of his two previous movies. Wilson plays Francis, who having just survived a bike crash attempts to reconnect with his estranged brothers, played by Schwartzman and Brody, on a journey of personal discovery.

The Darjeeling Limited contains all the offbeat humour you would expect of Anderson brought in a very low-key package. The plot is at times inconsequential and instead stands as a series of moments and set pieces and as a result it is unlikely to win over anyone yet to warm to his particular style of film-making, but as always with his work there is a wit and assuredness that is never boring.

6. Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)

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I know a number of people who look upon Anderson’s first animated feature as a disappointment. In many ways I can understand why, as if you are looking for a straight adaptation of Roald Dahl’s classic book in the manner of the delightful 1996 Matilda then this isn’t quite that. His style is so vivid and all encompassing that it usurps the plot even when working with an adaptation rather than his own script. Here that’s no bad thing as he creates a truly beautiful, visually stunning piece. The tone and visual palette so evident in his films lends itself beautifully to the stop-motion animation, a technique he would return to in one of the most memorable scenes of The Grand Budapest Hotel.

The plot takes the basic premise of Dahl’s children’s book, Mr. Fox frustrating the local farmer’s by stealing their chickens. Here though Mr. Fox is initially seen as a reformed family man who is then drawn back to the excitement of his previous criminal lifestyle and the subsequent effect this has on his family and friends. It’s a satisfying extension of the original story and benefits from an excellent voice cast including George Clooney in the lead role supported by Meryl Streep and regular Anderson players, Schwartzman, Wilson and Bill Murray.

5. The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)

VARIOUS FILMS

Anderson’s third movie continued his writing collaboration with Owen Wilson who also joined a remarkably strong ensemble cast. It sees Anderson really hit upon the formula that will become his modus operandi for all the films that will follow. Gene Hackman stars as the titular Royal Tenenbaum who attempts to reconcile with his ex-wife (Anjelica Huston) and children played by Ben Stiller, Gwyneth Paltrow and a returning Luke Wilson by feigning terminal illness.

With a simple enough plot idea taking a back seat to the oddball relationships of a large cast this is Anderson hitting upon a winning formula that at the time of it’s release felt brilliantly original. He would take this approach and further refine it in later work, but there is a reason The Royal Tenenbaums is still so highly regarded and appears in a number of top film lists.

4. Rushmore (1998)

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Anderson’s second movie (and second co-written with Wilson) sees him work with both Jason Schwartzman and Bill Murray for the first time. Schwartzman plays teenager Max Fischer who becomes embroiled in a love triangle involving his much older friend played by Murray and his teacher played brilliantly by Olivia Williams.

After the unpolished charm of Bottle Rocket, Rushmore is a far more confident movie and stands among Anderson’s best. The cast is fantastic and it’s no surprise that the two male leads became regular collaborators as they are clearly at home with the stylised dialogue so familiar to his films. Rushmore garnered huge critical praise and led to the bigger budget release of The Royal Tenenbaums.

3. Moonrise Kingdom (2012)

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Moonrise Kingdom represents quintessential Wes Anderson. The whole film feels like a celebration and a vindication of the oddball, the quirky and the outsider. Sam and Suzy are two unhappy 12 year olds who following a chance meeting become pen pals, fall in love and hatch a plan to run off together. Conducting the search for them are Suzy’s parents (Frances McDormand and Bill Murray), Sam’s Scoutmaster (Edward Norton), the local Police Captain (a very un-John McClane Bruce Willis) and eventually Social Services (a brilliant Tilda Swinton).

Moonrise Kingdom continues Anderson’s style of blending it’s humour with an innate sadness in it’s large cast of characters. It manages to do so with a confidence far greater than previously seen and injects more warmth and heart than in much of his back catalogue, once again claiming critical acclaim in the process.

2. The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004)

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The Life Aquatic once again sees Bill Murray come to the fore as the titular Steve Zissou an oceanographer who sets off on a desperate mission to find and kill the shark that ate his partner. Typically he is supported by a brilliant ensemble cast that sees Wilson and Huston return and Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Cate Blanchett and Michael Gambon join the company.

Of all Anderson’s films The Life Aquatic received the poorest critical response and was also deemed a disappointment at the box office so my decision to place it at number two on my list is possibly a surprise. It may be born slightly of nostalgia given that it is the first of his film’s I saw or it could simply be the joy of Murray’s performance, but I would argue there is a huge amount to enjoy here. It has a more cynical edge to Moonlight Kingdom, which I nearly placed above it and that is perhaps inevitable with Murray in the lead, but as a window into the unique style of the director it may be the most vivid.

1. The Grand Budapest Hotel

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Not only do I believe Anderson’s most recent work to be his best film so far, but it stands among my favourite films of all time. With nine Oscar nominations, including a first for Anderson as Director, a hugely positive critical response and a personal best box office return in the U.K. I clearly am not alone in thinking that.

Ralph Fiennes leads the cast as Monsieur Gustave concierge of the titular hotel. The plot is a complicated tale that is difficult to boil down into a simple synopsis. That in itself indicates The Grand Budapest Hotel is far more plot driven than a number of his previous films. All the self-assured confidence evident in Moonrise Kingdom is taken to another level here as the film bounces along with endless supplies of wit and humour. Fiennes clearly relishes his role and is an absolute revelation as is Tony Revolori as the faithful lobby boy Zero. The ensemble cast almost reads as a ‘best of’ Anderson’s previous films with Goldblum, Dafoe, Swinton, Murray, Wilson, Schwartzman, Brody and Norton all appearing in roles of various sizes.

The Grand Budapest is an absolute joy. It is a film I can happily go back to at any time and leaves me looking forward to seeing what Anderson’s next work, Isle of Dogs, a second animated feature scheduled for 2018 will bring.

World Book Day

As someone who in recent years has developed into something of an out of control bibliophile I definitely approve of the principle behind World Book Day. Anything that gets children talking about or showing a love of books can only be a good thing, even if I do slightly resent the fact that due to me working with children I have had to spend the day dressed as Wally from the Where’s Wally books.

My experience from nearly a decade of working with children aged 0-5 is there is something innate about our love of stories. As my role has changed I don’t spend quite as much time with the children as I used to, but whenever I do it is never long before I am brought a book and asked to read it. When I do I usually find a crowd quickly gathers and it is not unusual for me to go home with a sore throat from reading so much. To see this clear enjoyment of books and stories from such a young age never fails to warm the heart.

Not that a love of books must necessarily come from a young age. I grew up in a book loving family. My mum, dad and elder brother would seldom be found without their noses in a book, but I was never a prolific reader. Sport was my first love and at the end of the school day I went straight for the bat and ball and out to the garden rather than to the bookshelves. There were books that penetrated my list of priorities. The Wind in the Willows, Matilda (and Roald Dahl’s entire back catalogue for that matter) and the magnificent Asterix books were all favourites, but it was not my first port of call for entertainment.

As I got a little older I realised that my love of sport could be combined with reading and I turned almost exclusively to sports autobiographies. Looking back now I’m not quite sure how I did this, as with some notable exceptions it is a genre of books that I find it hard to get enthusiastic about now.

Nonetheless I continued to base my reading around them until one afternoon when my view of books changed completely. I was 16 and sitting in what had been my brothers bedroom, but had become mine after he left first for University and then for life. In the corner of the room were two large bookcases filled with his books. Feeling a little bored on a Sunday afternoon I decided to give one a go. Knowing nothing about it other than it involved the Mafia and the subsequent film was seen as an absolute classic I chose Mario Puzo’s The Godfather. For the rest of the day I didn’t put it down. I took it into sixth form the next day on the off-chance I might get a chance to read and I had finished it by that evening.

From that point on books became something that I loved rather than something I would turn to if there didn’t seem to be something better to do. I worked my way through a number of other Puzo titles before discovering classics like To Kill a Mockingbird, Catch-22 and A Tale of Two Cities. I found other authors whose work I love from Oscar Wilde to Jasper Fforde, John Irving to James Ellroy and George Orwell to Ian Fleming.

There have been a few missteps along the way (reading Frankenstein though considered a classic and loved by many nearly put me off reading for life) it’s a love that has greatly enriched my life. My flat is now full of more books than I will probably ever find time to read and that is without even taking into consideration those that remain at my parents house. There are few pleasures I enjoy more than wandering and browsing around a secondhand bookshop and little that makes me feel more relaxed.

World Book Day may mean that I have to sit quite literally dressed as a Wally for a day, but if it can help invest the love of books into others that I have been fortunate enough to develop then I guess it’s a price I will have to pay.

Roger Delgado: A Master at Work

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Today marks what would have been the 99th birthday of Roger Delgado.

In an acting career that was so tragically cut short when he was killed in a car accident in 1973 Delgado appeared in numerous film and television roles, but for generations of Doctor Who fans he will always be the man who brought us the Master.

It’s testament to Delgado’s iconic performance that while successive actors to play the Doctor have stepped out of the shadows of their predecessors to make the part their own it has been far more difficult for later iterations of the Master to do the same.

Delgado made his debut in Terror of the Autons, the first serial of Jon Pertwee’s second season. From the very first moment he steps onto screen he absolutely owns the role of the renegade Time Lord. This is a confident, authoritative and charismatic performer who brings a touch of class to proceedings whenever he is on screen.

At the end of that first story the Master manages to escape the clutches of UNIT and we have a closing scene where the Doctor looks off into the distance and states how much he is looking forward to doing battle with his foe again. In many ways it is a very odd scene. The Master has spent the whole of the story murdering numerous people in various unpleasant and macabre ways as he looks to help the Nestene conquer the Earth. It’s hard to imagine the Doctor expressing a similar sentiment had he just done battle with the Daleks or the Cybermen. Despite this reservation and even without the later revealed context of their past relationship you can almost see what the Doctor means. Delgado’s Master is such a charismatic figure that any time spent with him is frankly a joy even if he spends much of that time doing devilish and treacherous things.

Delgado would appear in every serial in Season eight and while this decision undoubtedly lessens the dramatic weight of his reveal each time you certainly never get bored of seeing him. He is an incredibly rare thing, a truly likeable villain who still manages to remain a credible threat. When given the right material to work with he is simply magnificent. When the scripts are less impressive he somehow still manages to elevate it with the sheer force of his personality and his not inconsiderable acting talent. His one-on-one scenes with Pertwee are always a delight and it’s clear that in much the same way as the Doctor must raise his game when competing with his new foe, Pertwee does the same when faced with such a talented actor.

The story goes that after Terrance Dicks had come up with the idea of introducing a Moriarty type figure for the Doctor as Holmes it was Producer Barry Letts who immediately said there was only one person who could play him. Letts had previously directed Delgado and his decision to get him on board as a recurring character must rank among the most perfect and exceptional casting decisions in the show’s long history.

For subsequent actors to take on the role, exiting the shadow of Delgado has proven to be a massive challenge. Anthony Ainley was a good performer and enjoyed some very strong moments in the role, but he inevitably suffers when in direct comparison with the original and for many people still the best to take the role. The success of different versions of the character is of course subjective. I would argue though that the most successful attempts to follow Delgado have been when they have moved in a very different direction and thus distanced themselves from those direct comparisons. The most obvious examples of that are Peter Pratt’s portrayal of the corpse-like Master in The Deadly Assassin or Michelle Gomez’s female take on Missy. This shouldn’t be taken as a criticism of the actors to have taken on the role since Delgado, but is just another indication of the indelible mark he made as the character.

For many actors it can often be a frustration when after a lifetime of work they still get largely associated with just one role. With over 120 credits to his name on film and television including appearances in series like The Saint, The Avengers and The Man in the Iron Mask there was certainly far more to Delgado than just the Master. But with the affection he is held in by Doctor Who fans never dimming and his contribution to the show so admired it is a guarantee that even 44 years after his death his life and work will continue to be remembered and celebrated.

As he stepped into the world of Doctor Who for the very first time he stated “I am usually known as the Master.”

The Master he was, the Master he is and the Master he will forever be.

Total Recall

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I love a good Arnie movie.

Actually if I’m perfectly honest I’m quite fond of a few bad ones too.

There are a handful of actors, Michael Caine and Sean Connery being notable examples, who I can pretty much watch in any old rubbish and still find some enjoyment. Schwarzenegger may not challenge the greats with his acting ability, but for me he fits nicely into that category of actors. In many ways it’s a strange phenomenon. Re-cast the lead in a film like Jingle all the Way and it would paradoxically be a much poorer film. Not that it’s a great film anyway, but imagining, for example Denzel Washington charging around and delivering lines about his desperation to find a Turbo Man and it would make an already pretty thin script seem frankly ridiculous. It’s entirely the sense of fun and his particular brand of charisma that lifts the film from being a totally irredeemable mess into something that in the right circumstances with a mince pie and a glass of sherry can actually be quite enjoyable.

Like Caine and Connery though we know that Arnie has the ability to be much more than just a charismatic screen presence, which brings me on to Total Recall. There are plenty of contenders for my favourite Arnie performance, but I can’t look past this 1990 sci-fi classic. Here he is afforded the chance to demonstrate a range not often seen in a lot of his more straightforward action movies. Not that this is a totally atypical role for him. He still gets to be the action hero and there are witty quips and quotable lines galore (“Consider that a divorce” and “You think this is the real Quaid…it is” are particular highlights). Schwarzenegger is in his element on this familiar ground, but the complexities of the story require significantly more from him this time round and he more than delivers the goods.

Watching Total Recall 27 years after it’s release it’s impressive how well it still stands up. Of course there are some elements that look dated (nothing dates a vision of the future more than graphics and fonts on a computer – see also the Doctor Who serial State of Decay). Overall though the effects work, the prosthetic work alone is remarkable, the twist-laden storyline works and crucially, Arnie definitely works. This is most impressively demonstrated as *Spoiler Alert* we reach the twist at the end of the movie. For the majority of the film he has played the confused, desperate hero trying to remember the information he knows will help save his friends in the resistance. It’s when we discover that he has had his memory altered and been planted as a double agent, much to his own surprise that we see the quality of his performance. As he appears to himself on video we see an image of the same man, but instead of confused and desperate he appears slick, confident, cocky and frankly a massive arsehole. The twist works because he is simultaneously believable as the same person, but an entirely different character and it’s Arnie’s performance that sells it.

I do love a good Arnie movie and Total Recall is a very good Arnie movie.