Cinema reviews: Borg vs McEnroe scores an ace

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Cinema reviews

In our regular cinema reviews James Drew attends the premiere of a film about a classic tennis match.

Borg vs McEnroe
It’s always a brave step, attempting to make a film about a classic sporting event – one thinks back to the attempt to ‘film’ the 1966 World Cup, which was, to say the least, not particularly successful from a dramatic or emotional perspective.

Enter Janus Metz Pedersen (Armadillo (2010)) – the Danish director has, perhaps against all the odds, brought us an account of the legendary 1980 Wimbledon final between Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe that ranks not only as one of the best sporting biopics ever made, but is also an emotional roller-coaster which, despite the fact that everyone knows how it’s going to end, delivers gruelling suspense, piercing character insights and, thanks to stellar performances from Shia LeBeouf as Mac, Sverrir Gudnason as Borg and Stellan Skarsgård as Borg’s long-time coach, a simply cracking yarn.

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Borg was always the iceman as far as his tennis comportment was concerned, the polar opposite of McEnroe who, in the film, and as we all remember, those of us who were around at the time, took some time to endear himself to the British public with his, ahem, ‘outspoken’ manner on court. His salvation comes in the 1980 final against Borg – and what an evocation of that final this film presents.

The film, to be fair, is far more Borg-centric than Mac-motivated – this is perhaps understandable, given that it recounts the enormous pressure Borg was under as he prepared for his fifth defence of the Wimbledon crown. “Noboday cares that I have won four – they all want to see me lose this one.”

In a casting coup, Borg’s own son Leo plays the tennis star aged 9-13, during which time Borg was having to come to terms with his own McEnroe-esque temper tantrums, until his coach Skarsgård (who speaks only Swedish for the entirety of the film) tells him that all his anger must be internalized, and only then can he achieve what he wants, namely to be the best tennis player in the world.

There is perhaps a sense, in detailing the earlier career of Borg and some of McEnroe’s progress towards tennis excellence, that we are all just waiting for the dramatization of the final that we know is coming, but when it does, it’s nothing less than a knockout. By and large, this is an ace.
100 mins.