Fire In Babylon - DVD Review

'a soaring success story... because it recognises that this is a fun sports tale, told in and around a collection of nations who never lost their sense of fun and love of a sport, even when others wanted them to'

As someone who has just played cricket for the first time in something like 12 years, allow me to tell you that it is very difficult. In five overs batted I made a less-than-respectable seven runs (not what you want in a limited overs game). In two overs bowled I managed six wides (though I stand by my story that the ones on target were actually quite good).

Imagine then that you're not someone having a dubious quality knock around at the local club, but one of a handful of cricketers representing your country in a country where cricket is less way of life, more a culturally-ingrained 'must do', like exams, or shouting at politicians in this country.

Imagine too that, whilst you're trying to play the sport and show the world how much fun your collective group of nations are, you're also being criticised for that very thing; criticised for being too nice, for not taking it quite seriously enough. Then imagine that cricket wasn't just introduced into your culture, it was pretty much forced into it, by your white imperial masters. I imagine, if that was me, there might have been a few more wides on that scorecard.

Such is the situation at the start of Stevan Riley's outstanding documentary, Fire In Babylon, which chronicles the West Indian cricket team during the course of the 1970s and 1980s. Beginning at a low point, the team ridiculed for playing 'Calypso Cricket': high on entertainment but low on quality, Riley builds a story where the West Indies lost their 'nice guy' tag and started to mix it with the powerhouses India and Australia and then sock it to their former colonial rulers, England.

Riley's story will hook even non-cricket fans with its vigour and its clear story of social change linked to sporting success. At the point the tide turns there is a very serious decision made by several of the team not to be silent or polite, but to show everyone that they're angry and oppressed and aware of the division that exists between themselves and players from white nations. The team adopt a hostile bodyline-like technique and unsurprisingly become the umpteenth team to be criticised for doing so, drawing the focus even whilst the Australians are doing the same thing. Division, it appears, still exists, even when you have shown the world that you are the best at something.

Riley's film works not only because it chronicles the era with triumphal detail and a soaring success story, not only because it has heroes like Viv Richards and Mike Holding to tell the story, but also because it recognises that, beneath the stories, this is a fun sports tale, told in and around a collection of nations who never lost their sense of fun and love of a sport, even when others wanted them to. An example of the film's recognition of this can be found in the very opening scenes. Just how many other serious cultural documents can say that they feature a former member of Bob Marley's Wailers telling his dog off? Not many, I'll wager.

By Sam Turner. Sam is editor of Film Intel, and can usually be found behind a keyboard with a cup of tea. He likes entertaining films and dislikes the other kind. He's on , Twitter and several places even he doesn't yet know about.

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