Matt Smith and Sam Hoare as Bert and Dickie. Picture from the B.B.C.
L.S. Media Rating ****
Cast: Matt Smith, Sam Hoare, Geoffrey Palmer, Douglas Hodge, Thomas Arnold, Matt Barber, John Bird, Ron Cook, James Frain, Clive Merrison, Clive Russell, Sarah Vickers.
There will always be one story to come out of an Olympic Games that is ripe many years later to get a writer of quality excited and in turn the creative juices will bring about a script that is both touching and passionate and yet reveals the hidden anguish behind some of the great Olympians.
In William Ivory’s Bert and Dickie, the lives of two driven and extraordinary men were presented in a television treat that would have unfortunately passed a lot of people by. Two men whose world’s were vastly different, so at odds with each other that the true story behind their success in the austerity games of 1948 is even more remarkable. The world of international rowing might not have the same type of glamour as the world of athletics, perhaps it may be deemed to elitist for some to handle even as a piece of period drama but this ‘Chariots of Fire’ on water had all the hallmarks of great television.
Portraying the two men was Sam Hoare as the upper class but well meaning Richard Burnell and Matt Smith, taking some time out from Doctor Who, as the dedicated and frustrated amateur Bert Bushnell. When Matt Smith takes on meaty roles such as this, it’s easy to see why the bosses at the B.B.C. hold in such high regard. He is good for the corporation and the corporation in turn has to be good to him.
The two men not only excelled at bringing these two great Olympians to life but also had the benefit of an extremely well versed cast behind them. In Geoffrey Palmer, not only do you get a man whose quality and professionalism is unquestionable, you just can’t help admire him even when he portraying the type of man whose ideas of sport and fair play seemed to have vanished after the Second World War. Alongside John Bird and Clive Russell was the sensational James Frain as the pre-war equivalent of Sir Steve Redgrave, the great Jack Beresford. Each of these great actors giving added humility to a great tale.
A rowing team is nothing without their coach and the Olympics is nothing without some great old fashioned story-telling to give some human perspective on what Olympians have to give up in order to succeed. In Bert and Dickie, it was a master-class of nostalgia and human drama.
Ian D. Hall