This week on Ray Illingworth Film Critic I’ve decided to take a break from the latest Hollywood blockbusters and look back at one of my favourite films, the 1981 art house classic, My Dinner with Andre.
Some of you might be surprised to learn of my affection for a movie which is, in essence, two members of the New York theatre scene enjoying a meal whilst they discuss experimental drama, alternative lifestyles and the meaning of existence. Well, let me assure you that I’m as much an intellectual as the next man, assuming the next man isn’t Jonathan Miller or Noam Chomsky – he’s not, as I’m writing this at the bar of the Pudsey Congs clubhouse whilst their second XI captain, Billy, cleans the optics. And let me tell you, compared to Billy, I’m Jean-Paul bloody Sartre.
Those of you familiar with My Dinner with Andre will be aware that it’s based on a tactical discussion held over evening dinner between myself, the England captain, and Alex Bedser, chairman of selectors, prior to the 1970/71 Ashes tour of Australia. That’s never been formally acknowledged by the film makers, but the entire plot has clearly been lifted from the relevant chapter of my autobiography Yorkshire and Back which was published just before the film went into pre-production.
At the beginning of the movie its two protagonists are arguing over the relative merits of experimental theatre, much as Alex and I debated which show to see in the West End after our meal together – Alex expressed a preference for Hair, whilst I was more interested in a revival of Uncle Vanya at the Old Vic. In the end we opted for The Mousetrap; a very English compromise in the sense that neither of us particularly wanted to see it.
The remainder of My Dinner with Andre sees the conversation flow over a wide range of topics that are thinly veiled allegories for the planning myself and Alex were putting into place for the upcoming Ashes campaign:
- perception versus reality – how to play the mystery spin of John Gleeson
- the de-humanisation of everyday existence – who changes next to John Snow when his corns flare up again
- should we order the fish or the lamb – who fields in front of the Hill at the SCG, Boycott or Underwood?
The discussion of more formal philosophical theories towards the end of the film is, however, a complete invention. I always tried to avoid the subject with Alex as I knew he was an ardent disciple of objectivism whilst I thought its strict adherence to the whims of market economics would lead to Surrey winning the championship each year with their chequebook.
That minor deviation from the truth aside it’s great to see such an important part of ashes history captured so brilliantly on film. In my opinion My Dinner with Andre ranks as one of the greatest movies about cricket, perhaps bettered only by Peter Greenaway’s breathtaking recreation of the bodyline series, The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover.
An enthusiastic thumbs up from me.