At the turn of the 19th century, Pugilism was the sport of kings and a gifted young boxer fought his way to becoming champion of England.
Matt Hookings isn't very convincing here in this rather sketchy biopic of British boxer Jeb Belcher. On the plus side, it conveys really well the gritty side of life in Victorian Britain where the genteel, ostensibly refined, upper class routinely used the travails of the working class as a source of entertainment. This young lad finds himself trained in the school of hard knocks by Russell Crowe's "Slack" whilst being fairly shamelessly manipulated by the clever "Lord Rushworth" (an overly hammy Marton Csokas). The narrative tries quite hard to offer us a plausible series of scenarios as the young man rises from obscurity, but the production is not good. It has a "digital" look to it; there is little authentic about the style and though there is a modest amount of pugilism contained, the presence of the one-gear Ray Winstone ("Warr") adds little to this remarkably sterile period drama. The usually reliable Steven Berkoff is completely under-used, and Julian Glover's "Lord Ashford" is straight out of "For Your Eyes Only" (1981). It's a fitting topic for a biopic. The brutality not just of their chosen, bare knuckle, way out of abject poverty but also of the way in which these men were carefully exploited by others rich and poor as if they were little better than cattle is something worth laying bare. Sadly, though, Daniel Graham has focused too much on delivering a big name supporting cast and left much of the writing and character development to simmer rather than boil. This is an adequate television movie, but a real missed opportunity to depict the story of a tenacious and wily fella.