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Playing Away (1986)

Courtesy of Channel Four Television

Main image of Playing Away (1986)
35mm, colour, 98 mins
DirectorHorace Ové
ProductionInsight Productions
CompaniesChannel Four
ProducersBrian Skilton
 Vijay Amarnani
ScreenplayCaryl Phillips
PhotographyNic Knowland
MusicSimon Webb

Cast: Norman Beaton (Willie Boy), Robert Urquhart (Godfrey), Helen Lindsay (Marjorie), Nicholas Farrell (Derek), Brian Bovell (Stuart)

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A cricket match is held in an idyllic Suffolk village played by the local team and a visiting West Indian team from Brixton, London. The arrival of the team leads to new friendships but also unexpected hostility.

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The gentle comedy of manners and unexpected reversal of white and black stereotypes in Playing Away contrasts sharply with the stylistic experimentation and the militant denunciations of racial prejudice in director Horace Ové's earlier feature, Pressure (1975). Playing Away succeeds by linking two familiar but strange cultures through the simple device of a sports game.

With no irony intended, the villagers of Seddington, led by liberal Marjorie Matthews, invite the Caribbean Brixton Conquistadors to their green and pleasant land for a cricket match to commemorate African Famine Week. The villagers, split along class lines, are not at all happy about this, convinced that the Conquistadors are liable to bring drugs and rioting to Seddington.

The Conquistadors captain, Willie Boy, is having similar problems convincing his ill-disciplined team to accept the challenge. His authority is publicly attacked by Errol, his daughter Yvette's boyfriend, who sees Willie Boy's acceptance of the challenge as a way of responding to his failings and unfulfilled ambitions in Britain.

Nevertheless, the Conquistadors set off on the road to Seddington, alien territory which leaves them lost and confused. Arriving to a brass band and village reception, their presence immediately destabilises the delicate class structure holding Seddington together. Led by Ian, the young working-class boys become resentful of the attention paid to the newcomers both by the local girls and the gentry. Would-be local bigwig, Derek dismisses the one-trick pace bowling strategy of the Conquistadors, but suspects that socially they have the capacity to overthrow all he holds dear.

The Conquistadors are themselves challenged by their new environment. Errol quickly abandons Yvette to conquer new village flesh, while Willie Boy caves in under the kind of subtle, but patronising English middle-class sneer that has kept him mentally enslaved.

The match will be the ground on which all will seek their own redemption. With the Conquistadors weakened by a defection, Seddington are on the verge of winning when their class divisions cause them to self-destruct. Ironically, their collapse is triggered by factors (ill-discipline and temperamental weakness) for which the Conquistadors had earlier been stereotyped. With victory achieved over their demons and the 'old enemy', Marjorie's suggestion that Brixton host the replay is received with muted indifference.

Onyekachi Wambu

*This film is available on BFI DVD.

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Video Clips
1. The welcoming (3:10)
2. Mr Willie Boy (2:27)
3. The game (3:09)
4. A dispute (2:50)
Boys' Cricket Match and Fight (1900)
Cricket (c. 1901)
Beaton, Norman (1934-1994)
Holder, Ram John (1934-)
Ové, Horace (1939-)
Channel 4 and Film