A BBC iPlayer exclusive, charting the rivalry between Alex Higgins and Steve Davis. The Hurricane versus The Nugget – will it knock you Snooker Loopy?
Back in 1985, Steve Davis and Dennis Taylor played out a nail-biting final frame of the Snooker World Championship watched by over 18 million people at midnight. But where did that popularity come from?
This film starts with Alex Higgins (Luke Treadwell, Attack The Block, Unbroken, Clash of the Titans) winning the World Championship in 1972. How many people are watching on TV? Zero. The final takes place in the British Legion Club in Selby Park, Birmingham, the end of a 11 month tournament, and Higgins won £400 for beating John Spencer. Higgins is the best in the world, but it’s a very small world. This is shown when the swaggering Higgins approaches a girl in a disco, only to be knocked back because she doesn’t know who he is.
At the same time, we see a young Steve Davis (Will Merrick, Skins, About Time) walking into a snooker club and asking about the state of the tables. The bemused bar tender asks if he should call Davis’ mum to come and pick him up. We then see the owner of the snooker club, a certain Barry Hearn (Kevin Bishop, fresh from his turn in We’re Doomed! The Dad’s Army Story) who turns up hours later with Davis still practicing. We have our main players set, and even if you don’t know the true story, if you’ve seen any sports film ever you know what happens next: the youngster practices and practices and becomes the best in the world, while the older star tries to regain his former glories.
The first part of The Rack Pack plays pretty much as a comedy. There is plenty of humour in Merrick’s dead-pan performance as Davis, and Bishop is great as a (probably only slightly) exaggerated version of Hearn. He is certainly played as a slightly one dimensional Del Boy type, but Bishop does give a very good performance, giving a bit of emotional depth in one particular scene between Hearn and Higgins later on.
The star of the show though is Luke Treadwell’s performance as Higgins. He gives it the full beans as the flamboyant rock star version of Higgins early on, and as we get to the latter parts of his career, we get to see a broken man. Again, the “one particular scene” that I mentioned before really is the emotional high point.
There is one thing that needs mentioning however. Although every single film based on true events takes some liberties with the truth (take a look at Dan’s True Story for a look at the story behind The Revenant) there are some glaring coincidences, omissions, and out of place references in The Rack Pack. However, this isn’t really that much of a problem. For the sake of the story we can accept Alex Higgins continued assertions that he is biggest attraction in snooker (“I am the box office”) as it fits perfectly in with his character and the story that is being told in the film. But, like I mentioned, 18 million people were watching snooker when Higgins was nowhere near, so why does Barry Hearn agree that Higgins is the only attraction in snooker.
Again, this isn’t much of an issue. The one thing I wanted to mention was the format. This is an iPlayer exclusive. It is available to watch for free on the BBC website, and will be for at least a year. But why? Is it a glimpse into the future? I can’t imagine snooker and BBC3 have much of a crossover audience, but with that channel going online, we will be seeing more original content being exclusively online. If this is a way of releasing lower budget content – with matching lower expectations – it will be interesting to see what comes next.
This story feels like it could have been a series, at least a two or three part drama. But in turn, fitting the story into a 90 minute blocks means that it is ok to just have thumbnail sketches of the supporting characters. Or to not show the terrible decline of Higgins that went far beyond not being able to compete at the highest level of snooker anymore. The story of how Barry Hearn built a multi-million pound British sports empire in the eighties probably deserves to be more than just filler as well.
Still, this is a fun little film. The comedy works (“Hello, I’m Steve Davis. And I’m so boring my nickname is Steve Davis.”) and Treadwell’s performance as Higgins is pretty special.
Even if you have no interest in snooker, give it a watch – and I assume if you do like snooker, you have already seen it!
Normally I put a trailer for the film at the end of the review…
But if you’re in the UK, here’s the film!
PS as a special treat for reading all the way to the end, here’s that Alex Higgins’ break against Jimmy White…
wildly regarded as one of the best ever, and here’s Steve Davis compiling the first ever maximum on TV.
Two of the biggest moments in snooker!
PPS Ok, one more treat…