Everyone loves an underdog story – almost as much as everyone loves to hear about the power of sport to resolve conflict. So this story of Northern Ireland’s 1986 World Cup campaign in Mexico should be a nailed-on winner. But it’s not.
‘Daddy, d’you think there’s any hope for Northern Ireland?’ asks puppy-eyed Tommy (Art Parkinson), whose life in Troubles-hit Belfast plays out in parallel to his sporting heroes’ bid for glory in Mexico. His innocence is sweet, but the backdrop of hostility is underplayed; aside from the odd helicopter searchlight flashing through the curtains and a brief bit of brick-throwing, the sense of aggression never really peaks, and as a result it feels like there’s less at stake.
It doesn’t help that the Northern Ireland team’s performance in the tournament – their best result was a draw against Algeria – provides a far from ideal emotional arc. And so the it’s-the-taking-part-that-counts sentiment is dialled up accordingly.
The accents are all over the place, too, with the two worst offenders – John Hannah as team coach (we’re guessing James Nesbitt was busy) and Nico Mirallegro as super-sub David Campbell – getting a lot screen time.
If you’re old enough to have been rooting for the boys in green at the time, you’ll get a kick out of ‘Shooting for Socrates’, but it’s a film that all too often fumbles into its own net.