Liverpool Sound and Vision Rating 9/10
Cast: Stellan Skarsgard, Shia LaBeouf, Bjorn Granath, Sverrir Gudnason, David Bamber, Tuva Novotny, Robert Emms, Jane Perry, Colin Stinton, Leo Borg, Scott Arthur, Tom Datnow, Claes Ljungmark, Ian Blackman.
Sport has changed, in many ways it has become sterile, predictable and staid, the problem can be placed at the door of many reasons, some will point the finger at the amount of money flowing into the game of football, motor racing, tennis and all those mass spectator sports in between, the amount of airtime afforded, especially in Europe to football, others will perhaps suggest that the problem lays at the door of personality and rivalry. So little of either, so few names that are willing to go beyond the rehearsed answers, so few that are not ruled by emotion rather than the P.R exercise, sport in many ways was so much more thrilling and dramatic before wall to wall coverage on television.
The intense and bitter rivalry is a given of enjoyment, to be the best in front of a crowd, to let the emotion truly match the heat on the court, the racetrack or the cricket pitch, we always remember more fondly the people who let emotion be prominent, Clough, Shankly, Stuart Pearce when he put the ghost of disappointment behind him against Spain in 96, James Hunt, Ian Botham in 1981, Billie Jean King against the gender dinosaur like Bobby Riggs and of course the most wonderful of them all, John McEnroe, a newspaper dream, a journalist’s nightmare and in 1980 when he came upon the seemingly cool, calm and iceberg like Bjorn Borg, he was the nightmare that people loved to boo and who became a firm fan favourite.
Any sporting biopic is always going to be slightly sanitised; it is going to have elements removed, changed and distorted but the element of the truth is there and for all the greats that have dominated the game of tennis since, none really have captured the imagination since these two men stood toe to toe at Wimbledon.
Borg V McEnroe is up there with the biopic of the clash between Motor racing’s Lauder and Hunt, a story that brought back memories of when sport was about character, personality and absolute grit and not about the clean and often lauded celebrity, for celebrity and personality are not the same thing, a personality rages, it is like a volcano, always ready to throw its temper onto the unsuspecting that dare camp too near.
What may be a surprise is the comparison between the two men, billed as chalk and cheese, two different ends of the spectrum, what comes across is the rage that was in the mind of Bjorn Borg, a gentleman, polite, often the personification of cool, was in fact just as possible to reach a dark place, to sit on the mood and let the steam talk through the tennis.
With tremendous performances by Shia LaBeouf as the explosive McEnroe and Stellan Skarsgard as the calculating but ultimately best person for Borg, tennis coach Lennart Bergelin, Borg V McEnroe is a film that may have had some details changed for effect but in which retains the heart, the absolute soul of personality and the desire to be the best. A film which frames to be the best you often have to something others don’t, fire in the belly and in the brain.
Ian D. Hall