Bernie, a London Jewish boy who sees his barmitzvah as the very peak of his young life, suddenly realises it’s taking place on the same day as the 1966 football (soccer) World Cup final. Will anyone come, especially once the home team start morphing from total no-hopers to potential giant-killers? Helena Bonham Carter, Peter Serafinowicz, Eddie Marsan and Catherine Tate are among the familiar British faces helping young Gregg Sulkin towards his big day in a likeable but small-scale comedy which pins its hopes on the footballing names Bobby Moore, Nobby Stiles et al to give it back-of-the-net appeal.
This of course makes for very parochial comedy indeed, but director Paul Weiland, apparently basing it on events in his own life, gives it emotional heft and packs it with the sort of homeliness that might be missing from a more production line affair – comedy uncles who answer questions with a shrug and an apologetic look, comedy aunts whose culinary concoctions are so appalling that no one can tell what ingredients went into them. If you can detect the hand of Richard Curtis in there (the funny speeches at family events, perhaps?), who apparently wrote the film’s first draft, that’s because he and Weiland are old buddies.
And while young Bernie, not particularly popular, can be seen as a metaphor for the entire England team, who were underdogs going into the 1966 World Cup, indeed were only invited to play because they were the host nation, is it too fanciful to see his family as stand-ins for Jews everywhere as the family sees their fortunes taking a major setback in one unlucky accident after another? Yes, that probably is a bit of a stretch, because the one thing that Sixty Six isn’t is overly ambitious. Indeed if you’re familiar with any of the work of Jack Rosenthal, his 1976 TV play Bar Mitzvah Boy most obviously, then this tucks right in to that niche Rosenthal has hewn, though he’s a more particular and detailed writer than Bridget O’Connor and Peter Straughan, who have fleshed out Weiland’s own story.
This throws a lot of weight onto the shoulders of the actors, and for the most part they rise to the challenge, Helena Bonham Carter making a fine North London Jewish mother whose boy and his special day brings out the warrior queen in her, Eddie Marsan as Bernie’s dad, a nervous piece of wet timidity too interested in his own business dealings, Catherine Tate as the aunt whose canapés are fit only for laboratory testing.
It’s the sort of film that Britain seems to be able to make with its eyes closed – warm, periodically funny, gentle and well acted – the sort that isn’t likely to encourage a mass desertion of warm sofas and remote controls in favour of queuing outside a pricey cinema on a cool evening. Where are this country’s Luc Bessons?
© Steve Morrissey 2006