“Four million tennis players in the world, and I’m 119th. But what that really means is this – 118 guys out there are faster, stronger, better and younger.”
It seems most unlikely but I don’t think I’ve ever seen 2004 romcom Wimbledon or if I have, I’ve erased every trace of it from my mind. And as it is that time of year again in SW19, it seemed as good a time as any to load it up for a spot of viewing on a train journey this past weekend. Whilst it is no great shakes as a tennis film or really does much as a ‘com’, it has a sweet charm to it with no small thanks to a likeable Kirsten Dunst as a tennis brat of a heroine and the slightly odd decision to Hugh Grant-ify its leading man Paul Bettany, clearly the only option for a British romcom.
Bettany plays Peter Colt, a Henman-esque figure of a nearly-there British tennis number one whose recent poor form has seen him plummet in the rankings and consider retirement. A chance meeting with upcoming US player Lizzie Bradbury puts a fizz in his step and the swing back in his serve and his wildcard for Wimbledon suddenly looks like an unlikely opportunity to go out in a blaze of glory. With his barely supportive family on the sidelines and Jaime Lannister himself as a hitting partner who looks good in a sauna, it seems Centre Court is beckoning him for one last hurrah.
Adam Brooks, Jennifer Flackett and Mark Levin’s script is full of clichés and an amusing idea of what it is to be a professional tennis player – fish and chips on the night before a Grand Slam match? Sure. But it is also the name of the game, undemanding frothy fun that does its job at a fair lick. There’s precious few subplots to distract from the main thrust of the story – Bernard Hill and Eleanor Bron as his long-suffering parents and a remarkably youthful James McAvoy as his self-interested brother Carl get the best of it, Sam Neill is wasted as Lizzie’s overprotective father.
And Richard Loncraine’s direction keeps things ticking over effectively through all the tropes of the genre – heavy-handed comedy, romantic walks in strangely empty public places with no camera-phones, last minute changes of heart, dashes through airports, vaguely connected people watching the big event on a screen somewhere else (with Celia Imrie in their number no less), heartfelt speeches and soppy flash-forwards. The less said about the attempts to show them playing tennis the better but there are many many worse films you could watch instead of this. Now come on Roger!