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Playing Away (1986)


Warning: screenonline full synopses contain 'spoilers' which give away key plot points. Don't read on if you don't want to know the ending!

It is Africa Famine Week in the village of Seddington, and former expat Marjorie Matthews and husband Frederick kick off proceedings by showing the villagers a film of their travels with the Maasi. As part of the events, Derek arranges a cricket match against the Brixton Conquistadors, led by Willie Boy.

Because of his class, and to compensate for sexual problems with his wife, Derek projects himself as a leader in the village. But he is nervous about the arrival of the Conquistadors, given the stereotypes embraced by the villagers that they are liable to bring drugs, violence and rioting to Seddington.

Willie Boy is having leadership issues with his own team. His daughter Yvette's boyfriend, Errol, resents his domineering character and challenges him publicly to a fight. Others, such as Jeff, are being drawn elsewhere by his white wife, and are ill-disciplined. Willie Boy laments their disorganisation to his friend and second-in-charge, Robbo, and dreams of home, where his wife has already returned, while he lingers on in London, unfulfilled.

The next morning, the Conquistadors meet in Brixton - Jeff is late as usual and nearly misses the group photograph. Despite getting lost, they eventually arrive in Seddington to the sound of a brass band. Marjorie welcomes them, gifts are exchanged and the visitors are billeted with individual families. At a later reception, each side begins to take the measure of the other. Derek dismisses the one-dimensional pace strategy of the Conquistadors, while Errol tries to get the working-class villagers to rebel against their middle-class masters.

The reception itself begins to expose the wider class differences in the village. Errol and Stuart play pool with two local girls, Sandra and Sally, to the chagrin of both the local working-class boys and Yvette, who goes off by herself. The working-class boys, led by Ian, follow her and nearly assault her.

Meanwhile, Jeff has returned to Derek's house, where he is billeted, and begins wooing Derek's sexually frustrated wife. Meanwhile, Willie Boy gets into a deep conversation with Frederick, who wonders whether such a game is the appropriate thing for Willie Boy to be engaged in at a time of such poverty in Africa and the Caribbean. Willie defends himself and wanders off to get a drink. Humiliated after being denied service in two pubs, and wondering where Yvette is, he begins to weep, and collapses in a drunken state in the graveyard.

Next morning, Jeff leaves abruptly for London, and Willie Boy is discovered in the graveyard by the Colonel, who takes him home for breakfast and another talk about the meaning of life. The rest of the Conquistadors go to church and then on to the game.

The Conquistadors are now not only without Jeff, but Willie Boy is seriously late, leading to further ill-discipline. Willie Boy's arrival buoys them up, as does his speech, in which he stresses the need to win despite their complex reasons for being there. The accompanying women make up the numbers for the team.

Derek's team speech stresses the need to be hard but fair. Despite Seddington's early batting successes, they are eventually worn down by the bowling of the Conquistadors.

The Conquistadors have some early successes batting, but then wickets fall rapidly. They are in danger of losing when Seddington self-destruct. A couple of wild appeals are rejected by Frederick, the umpire, prompting Ian to storm off, accompanied by the rest of the working-class villagers. Derek and the middle-class contingent carry on with five players and a stiff upper lip.

Everything now rests with Errol, the least disciplined Conquistador. Errol wants to make a game of it; Willie Boy tells him to be ruthless and finish them off, which he does.

At the end Marjorie makes a speech about winning not being important. Maybe next year, she suggests, the game will take place in Brixton. To a muted response, Frederick remarks that she did all she could short of playing.