Brian Cox is the perfect actor to play legendary Man United manager Sir Matt Bubsy. The heavyweight thesp of stage and screen lends all projects he’s involved with – big or small – a kind of mythic aura not dissimilar from that which surrounded Busby and his young team of “Busby Babes”, one of the greatest sides in the history of sport whose championship dreams were cruelly snatched away from them when their plane tragically crashed in Munich in 1958, killing eight of the squad’s promising players.
This story has already been old on film in TV’s United, but Believe is an allegorical story which imagines Matt’s life many years after the crash, coming out of retirement for one last coaching challenge and transforming a group of eleven year-old scallywags into a dream team to compete for the upcoming Manchester Junior Football League Cup. In real life of course, Matt committed himself to ‘training lads for life’ after Munich, and the film shows how this continued belief in young talent allowed him to finally deal with the ghosts of the lives lost and heal himself of that which haunted him the rest of his days.
A fateful act of petty crime by eleven-year old Georgie (a remarkable Jack Smith) leads Matt to discover that the young tear away is an extraordinarily gifted footballer and so he takes him under his wing, training him and his friends for the competition. Both teacher and pupil have suffered hard personal losses in their lives and the charming on screen relationship between Cox and Smith is so deeply moving we quickly become attached to them and will them to beat the odds. Everyone loves a good underdog story and these two touching performances make Matt and Georgie impossible not to root for. A powerful sports movie with a hopeful message and involving supporting turns from Natascha McElhone, Toby Stephens and Anne Reid, Believe is that rare family film these days that talks to adults and children on the same level, in a sincere inspirational, and grown up way. A film even for those who aren’t football fans, it dares the viewer to dream and makes us feel as though we’re the ones the team on the field are playing for instead of a trophy.
On the day of the film’s theatrical release (it hits DVD and iTunes August 4th), I spoke to Brian Cox about playing such a revered real life figure, his own memories of the Munich crash and why inspirational family films like these are so important.
First published by Vérité Film Magazine on July 25, 2014