Blackball (film)

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Blackball Coverart.png
DVD cover of Blackball
Directed byMel Smith
Produced byJames Gay-Rees
Written byTim Firth
Distributed byIcon Entertainment International
Release date
  • 5 September 2003 (2003-09-05) (U.K.)[1]
  • 11 February 2005 (2005-02-11) (U.S.)
Running time
96 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom
Box office$48,000 (USA)

Blackball is a 2003 British sports comedy film, based on the game of lawn bowls. The Blackball screenplay was written Tim Firth,[2] and was directed by Mel Smith.[3] The film features James Cromwell as a master bowls player, and Paul Kaye as a naturally talented player who have differing social backgrounds; who are placed together by Vince Vaughn to play for England against Australia. Its fictional plot is based on the bowls player Griff Sanders, who was also referred to as "The Bad Boy of Bowls".[4][5]


In addition to the main character being modelled after Griff Sanders, the film also spoofs Bjørge Lillelien's infamous commentary from Norway's 2-1 defeat of England at football in 1981.[6] This theme was first riffed by David Baddiel and Frank Skinner on their TV show Fantasy Football League, and the other commentator for the match was Angus Loughran, who played 'Statto' on Fantasy Football.

Blackball was filmed on the Isle of Man and Torquay during October and November 2002. It was released on DVD on 16 February 2004. Various internet games were created in promotion of the movie.[7] Crackerjack an Australian bowls based film that pre-dates Blackball has been described in some circles as the true inspiration for the English version.[citation needed]


Cliff Starkey (Paul Kaye), is a rebellious young bowls player, brought up on "the Lynx Estate", with his friend Trevor (Johnny Vegas), and grandfather Mutley (Bernard Cribbins) as a painter and decorator. He dreams of playing for his country but always preferring to play by his own rules, was always disapproved by the local Torquay bowls club. He learns of Australian brothers (Carl and Mark Doohan) future tour of England, and plans to get selected for the national team. Starkey would play through the tournament undefeated, defeating veteran player (and thirteen times champion) Ray Speight (James Cromwell). After winning the competition, and becoming eligible to play for England, Speight, the head of the local lawn bowls association, bans Starkey for fifteen years for writing an expletive on an opponent's scorecard. Angry about the ban, Starkey gatecrashes the celebration party for Speight, who was declared champion; launching a wood across the dinner table at Speight.

Cliff Starkey being presented by Rick Schwartz as the "bad boy of bowls".

Starkey is then picked up by sports agent Rick Schwartz (Vince Vaughn), where Starkey is re branded as the "bad boy of bowls", turning the normally sedate sport into a glitzy, in your face competition. Having defeated many lower key players in unofficial matches, using his variety of trick shots Starkey develops a romance with Kerry Speight (Alice Evans), Ray's daughter. Schwartz proposes a way to get the ban on Starkey lifted, by using this relationship, where the two are spotted by national press, setting Ray Speight to swear at a public address, causing the ban to be removed.

With the sport's popularity at an all-time high, both Speight and Starkey become media celebrities. Schwartzs organises both Starkey and Speight take on Australia's unbeaten Doohan brothers in "The Ashes", a one off tournament in a custom made bowls arena in Torquay. Schwartz; afraid that the relationship with Kerry is affecting Starkey's game; ends his relationship without his consent causing Starkey to fire Schwartz.

Both players have a wide disdain for each other, and are made to use custom bowls for the game. After failing with his woods, and the pressure of the game getting to him, Starkey throws his own woods (and signature carrier bag) into a canal. With both players failing at half time, Trevor and Kerry talk to the pair, and get them to work as a team to make a comeback. Starkey would dive into the canal, followed by Ray Speight, who thought Starkey was trying to drown himself, but was in fact rescuing his own bowls. The two return to the arena, wet and make a comeback thanks to Speight's experience and Starkey's extravagance, to force the game into an extra name (humorously titled the "golden bowl"), much to the disbelief of Carl and Mark Doohan.

The final end, a one bowl play-off, sees a perfect front toucher from Mark Doohan. Speight gives the bowl to Starkey, but stops him from playing his intended fire shot, and instead instructs him to play his own signature large inswinging bowl. The shot works, and the two celebrate having defeated the Australian team, and make amends with Trevor and Mutley.



Critical response to the film was mixed. Critical review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes scored the film at 41% based on 22 reviews.[8]

David Aldridge from the Radio Times scored the game 1 out of 5, noting that "the laughs here are way off-target."[9] Nev Pierce at the BBC gave the film 2 out of 5 stars.[1] Ed Colley of Future Movies gave the film 3.5/5 saying that "blackball isn't going to single-handedly save British cinema, but it's a likable comedy all the same, even for those wouldn't know a good in-swinger if it came curving towards them at a frightening pace."[10]


  1. ^ a b Pierce, Nev (4 October 2003). "BBC Blackball Review". Archived from the original on 11 October 2003. Retrieved 15 April 2014.
  2. ^ "Blackball | Film | The Guardian". The Guardian. Retrieved 8 February 2018.
  3. ^ "The Tim Firth Blackball Home Page". Retrieved 15 April 2014.
  4. ^ Colley, Ed (16 September 2003). "Blackball Future Movies Review". Archived from the original on 21 February 2014. Retrieved 15 April 2014.
  5. ^ "Troubled times for the Gazza of the green". The Independent. Retrieved 8 February 2018.
  6. ^ "Commentator's 'Maggie Thatcher' outburst makes UNESCO list". 8 February 2012. Retrieved 8 February 2018.
  7. ^
  8. ^ "NATIONAL LAMPOON'S BLACKBALL (2005)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 8 February 2018.
  9. ^ Aldridge, David. "Blackball - Review". Radio Times. Retrieved 8 February 2018.
  10. ^ Colley, Ed (16 September 2003). "Blackball Review - Future Movies". Future Movies. Retrieved 8 February 2018.

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