21 user 9 critic

Second Best (1994)

PG-13 | | Drama | 30 September 1994 (USA)
2:00 | Trailer

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Graham, a lonely Welsh postal worker, adopts James, a troubled ten-year-old boy. Graham always wanted a son, but James loves his biological father too much to give Graham a chance. Will the two be able to accept each other as family?


Chris Menges


David Cook (novel), David Cook (screenplay)
1 win & 2 nominations. See more awards »



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Cast overview, first billed only:
William Hurt ... Graham Holt
Nathan Yapp Nathan Yapp ... Jimmy
Keith Allen ... John
Chris Cleary Miles Chris Cleary Miles ... James
Doris Irving Doris Irving ... Adoption Shop Volunteer
James Warrior James Warrior ... Senior Social Worker
Jane Horrocks ... Debbie
Alfred Lynch ... Edward
Rachel Freeman Rachel Freeman ... Elsie
Gus Troakes Gus Troakes ... Jeffo
Mossie Smith Mossie Smith ... Lynn
Martin Troakes Martin Troakes ... Colin
Shaun Dingwall ... Graham, age 20
Paul Wilson Paul Wilson ... Colin, age 20
Alan Cumming ... Bernard


Graham Holt is a lonely middle-aged man who runs a postal substation in a small village in England. He decides to adopt a son. James is the troubled youth he gets with the assistance of social worker Debbie. James has been in an orphanage for years since his mother committed suicide. He adores his outlaw father John, sent to prison not long after the mother's death. Can James learn to love Graham? Can Graham settle for being second best? Written by Reid Gagle

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis



Motion Picture Rating (MPAA)

Rated PG-13 for thematic elements | See all certifications »






Release Date:

30 September 1994 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Difícil elección See more »


Box Office

Gross USA:

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Company Credits

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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

Dolby Stereo



Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
See full technical specs »

Did You Know?


Last film of Alfred Lynch. See more »


[Remembering his mother's death]
Graham: Dad wasn't making much sense. His hands were like injured birds looking for a safe place to roost.
See more »


Featured in At the Movies: Only You/Second Best/Pulp Fiction (1994) See more »


Written and Performed by Simon Boswell
Published by Sunfun Ltd.
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User Reviews

As a Father's Day gift: The Best and Second to none
4 November 1998 | by Cantoris-2See all my reviews

David Cook, author of the novel of the same title and also involved in the film, is known for his sensitive and probing treatments of characters marginalized in society. After seeing the film, I made a point of searching for the book, and at long last spotted a "galley proof edition" in a used bookstore in Oxford. The picture is faithful to the novel-- if anything, excessively so. Much dialogue is reproduced intact. A number of small incidents and gestures which seem inconsequential or puzzling in the movie were revealed as symbols or evocations of episodes which the book had fleshed out. Directors themselves so immersed in every detail are at risk of assuming too much understanding from the audience, depriving them of just another few words, or a brief camera close-up, which would have put a point across coherently. But these are quibbles, for there is enough depth and quiet eloquence left here to call for a rare ten stars out of ten.

This is the story of an unlikely relationship which succeeds as the mutual balm for unusual wounds. The man Graham and the boy Jamie both suffer profoundly from separation from their fathers-- physical separation in Jamie's case (his adored dad is in prison), emotional in Graham's. Each discovers that the other cherishes the memory of just a few days of filial closeness, shattered shards of supreme bliss sparkling in the dismal landscape of their emotional lives. Yet not only does Graham, a candidate to adopt Jamie, lack the primary qualification for a stepfather: a wife. He is a shy nerd with no obvious charisma whatsoever for a hyperactive, street-wise, cynical kid.

But traumas in his past have stamped this boy with a vehement misogyny. As little as he fancies anyone presuming to take his father's place, he craves having a stepmother even less. Graham's bachelorhood is a relative advantage. Graham proves himself gradually with humility, honesty, and a quality of unfailing respect for the person struggling underneath Jamie's sullenness which one can only describe as reverence. A "special-ed" teacher of my acquaintance called Jamie (and Chris Cleary Miles' passionate characterization) very realistic, and pronounced Graham (as brought to life masterfully by William Hurt) "a genius" in his approach to the developing relationship.

While some will complain that this film drags, others will value its quiet atmosphere in which heart-codes are patiently decrypted. The more important the dialogue is, the likelier it is to approach whispers. One crucial central scene, barely audible, as the haunting strains of the score's "rift" theme echo away more faintly still, never to be heard again, must be one of the tenderest moments ever captured on celluloid.

Perhaps Graham has been plagued by a touch of agoraphobia. The cinematography deftly suggests this world view: interiors of small rooms, fussy wallpaper, obtrusive props, brilliant curtains covering the windows; exteriors somehow painting scenes of ravishing beauty with brushstrokes of vague terror.

Graham Holt is an unlikely hero, but a true one. If more people treated one another the way he does, the world would be a better place.

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