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Boxing at the Movies: Kings of the Ring

Sun Mar 3, 9-10pm, BBC4

Frank Bruno once called boxing ‘show business with blood’. And that description hints at perhaps the biggest problem facing the maker of a fight flick. How do you compete with real life? What dramatist would dare to create life stories as harrowing, heroic and sensational as those of Mike Tyson or Jack Johnson or Joe Louis? Still, it’s an itch that continues to demand scratching and Danny Leigh’s documentary has a decent stab at explaining why.

By exploring classics of the genre (‘Rocky’, ‘Raging Bull’) and lesser-known efforts (‘Body and Soul’, ‘The Set-Up’), Leigh posits the idea that the boxing is the least important aspect. For Jake LaMotta, ‘the ring is everywhere’. And so it is, to a lesser degree, for all of us – by exploring race, corruption, mortality, courage and redemption, the best boxing films manage to universalise this most singular and intense of pursuits. Leigh’s clearly a fan and his passion shines through – by the end, he’s made a persuasive case.