An intriguing new twist on the British class divide is offered by this portrait of boxer, alcoholic, chess master and writer John Healy. The product of an abusive childhood, Healy was down and out on the streets of London until he found unlikely salvation in chess – for which he had a seemingly natural talent – and, in 1988, published his hugely acclaimed memoir, ‘The Grass Arena’. But success was to be short-lived: following a disagreement with his editors at Faber – who alleged that he threatened them with murder – Healy found himself persona non grata in literary circles.
Paul Duane’s documentary leans heavily on Healy, who never seems the most reliable source. But it also finds plenty of ammunition to criticise the bourgeois Faber establishment, who clearly had difficulty handling this fiery, troubled artist and still, decades after the fact, find ways to discredit Healy, who hasn’t published since. At 72 minutes the film is rather slight, and would feel more at home on TV. Nonetheless, it’s an interesting tale, well told.