Eleven-year-old David Wiseman is mad about cricket but no good at it. He has the entire kit but none of the skill, and he's a laughingstock at school. So when a Jamaican family moves in ...
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Eleven-year-old David Wiseman is mad about cricket but no good at it. He has the entire kit but none of the skill, and he's a laughingstock at school. So when a Jamaican family moves in next door and builds a cricket net in the back garden, David is in seventh heaven. But this is 1960s Britain, and when the neighbours start to make life difficult for the new arrivals, David's family is caught in the middle, and he has to choose between fitting in and standing up for the new friends who have turned his world upside-down. Written by
Rascism and sport in a film about someone born to immigrants themselves, Wondrous Oblivion just about balances respective plights of living with hostility and coming-of-age.
Wondrous Oblivion is neat and effective for what it is. In Cricketing terms, it's a sort of cinematic equivalent of a steady-going half century complete with the odd blemish that doesn't quite develop into a big hundred. You get the feeling it was made by someone fairly passionate about films and the art of film-making, someone that enjoys taking on subject matter which is fairly familiar but who isn't additionally afraid of tackling issues of discrimination and racism. On a technical level, Wondrous Oblivion works, well, near wonders. On a level of story telling and using an age old arc for its characters to undergo, let's just say the film works to a degree which will not, and consequently has not, seen it shatter any new ground and as a result, has perhaps faded into near oblivion.
The location is London, the year 1960; and the film tells the coming of age plus rise in cricketing ability of one young boy named David (Smith) on one strand with the arrival plus socially outcast-driven demise of a West Indian family who have moved in next door, a family headed up by Dennis (Lindo), on the other. The film's underlying idea is that sport can bring people together, and in a time that sees a white Britain have immigrants from the Caribbean arrive and all the questions that come with being in the presence of them, it is fitting that a cricket match at a local ground will see blacks and whites; West Indians and the English-alike, all gather around in one place together at one time in order to share a fondness for a sport being played out in front of them. The sport is Cricket. Cricket is the would-be first love of our lead, a fresh faced and distinctly innocent looking boy who doesn't exactly excel at the sport; relegated to mostly scoring Surrey's county matches and England's home Tests by way in some form or another. All this plus the persistent engaging in his own fantasy cricket matches in which player profile cards pit their wits against one another during which either end of a pencil is used to determine who does what. It would be fair to say David is wrapped up in his own little world.
Born to Jewish German immigrants himself, and therefore hardly into a Cricketing family of any kind, David's curiosity in the two things that will form the basis for his transition in the film arrive at once in the form of new immigrant neighbours and the item they set up in their back garden. What could it be? Fabric that aids in growing some kind of sprawling plant? Their own way to tell those next door that this is where their territory categorically begins? No, it's the cricketing net they construct in order so that they may have a bowl and a bat in their spare time. But David eventually bonds with the family's daughter, a certain Judy (Elliot), and before long connects with her in the same way he does with the sport of Cricket, only in a different sense.
Director Paul Morrison constructs an odd, consistently wavy sensibility about things within a period setting. I don't doubt the authenticity of the sets recreated for the era, but Morrison somehow manages to blend that raw, unhinged and really rather hostile 'look' of a kitchen sink drama of its time with several other sequences of a more lightweight, upbeat and romanticised nature that come with a similar atmosphere. For most of the time that the West Indians have only recently moved in next door, a lot of what we see of them in constructed from a gaze that sees the onlooking character peer down at them from the somewhat hallowed turf of their own home. Standing at a window looking at them in their kitchen doing whatever or in the garden building the Cricket net, the technique calls to mind a certain sense of trepidation of how young David views them his point of view constructed as if it were a sense of curiosity blended with that want to keep one's distance and just survey. The technique is banished when he interacts with them more and more often, the stuffy and somewhat dismissive tone of the elderly English adults nearer the start of the film springing to mind as the only other time we've seen him previously interact with an adult that isn't a member of his family; Dennis' soothing, calm and relaxed voice plus mannerisms taking centre stage for a quick session of bowling. Unlike the stuffy, nonchalant English who dismiss his skills and relegate him to scoring his school's cricket matches, Dennis is patient with David and comes to coach him.
Morrison balances everything much like he balances the gritty, racially driven hatred of some scenes with the more uplifting mostly sweet sequences of David and Judy interacting in a young and naive manner at times of great tension: lopsided, but mostly feeling more important than it actually is because of the subject matter. A certain rawness desperately wants to kick at certain times, particularly towards the end, while a sub-plot involving David's mother and potential infidelity sort of exists to bulk out the runtime. But the film works on the whole, with the quirky and upbeat aesthetic creeping into realms of near fantasy when it transpires David, very briefly, captains a West Indian international: they're here because the West Indies, conveniently, are due to play England in a test series, although I looked it up and it appears South Africa were the touring side for the summer of 1960. Regardless, Wondrous Oblivion is worth seeing for the steady piece it is. Whereas a lesser film taking on the sort of varied material might've been clean bowled early on, Wondrous Oblivion provides a scratchy innings which survives a few scares, before going on to make a score of some extent.
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