Some interesting ideas but ultimately it's delivery (direction, writing and performances) let it down
In 1990 the football season is ending. Middlesborough are facing relegation to division three, with only a win being enough to save them. Meanwhile, at the other end of the table Newcastle are mere points away from automatic promotion to division one. Two men on an airbase in the UK await their flight out during the gulf war are distracted form the military campaign by the end of season match where Middlesborough play Newcastle. With the match approaching they find themselves stuck in a pantry cupboard with only a broken radio for company.
In 2002 BBC Choice (one of the BBC's first forays into digital television) commissioned three short films around the subject of football to be part of the build up to the World Cup in France. Staying Up was the third and final of the three shorts and it is the least effective. The plot is a strange mix of attempted comedy and attempted drama. The comedy is basic and doesn't really work even the presence of Vegas doesn't generate any real laughs or imaginative moments. The second half of the film sees more detail of Billy's character and background but this doesn't really work either. It was a good try and an interesting attempt to join men's emotional involvement with football to the 'real' pain and emotion of their lives but it didn't totally convince me (and the parallels between the war between the teams and the Gulf War was a total mystery to me).
Part of the fault is the lack of real production values in the short. The film looks very different form the others in the series this one looks like a sitcom with wooden sets and a very flat visual feel to it. This is perhaps an unfair criticism but I just was never really inspired by it. The writing fails to really create realistic characters and the dialogue isn't as natural as it would like to think it is. Of course part of the blame for this lies with the performances, which are mostly quite flat. Heaney is good and is easily the best thing in the short. Tompkinson is more a sitcom actor than anything else and it shows here he cannot deliver the emotions and the credibility required to carry off his lead character and it means the key stages of the film don't work. Fulford and MacCreedy have very little to do and Vegas is more of an unnecessary cameo than anything else although he is amusing once or twice.
Overall this is not a very good short even if it is worth watching once. It lacks it's own style visually it is rather flat and the soundtrack is based on the usual Brit-pop hits and is further sign of a lack of imagination. It has some interesting ideas and it is a shame that it didn't manage to really deliver them with any degree of success.
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