• David Parkinson

Parky At the Pictures (9/7/2021)

(Reviews Tove; Jumbo; Poster Boys; To Be Someone; and Phil Liggett: The Voice of Cycling)


Cinemas are open again, then. But not everyone is going to want to sit in the dark being distracted by the prospect of whether everyone else in the auditorium is following the social distancing guidelines as strictly as they are.


Consequently, the streaming platforms who have done rather well out of lockdown are going to keep up their good work for the time being at least. Therefore, in addition to subscription sites like Curzon Home Cinema. MUBI, Netflix and the BFI Player, the likes of iTunes, Apple TV, Amazon, Sky Store, Virgin, Microsoft, Vimeo, Google Play, Rakuten, BT and Playstation will be staying open for business. Whatever choice you make, stay safe.


TOVE.


Back in the 1960s, Wendy Craig starred in a BBC sitcom entitled Not in Front of the Children. The title springs to mind when reviewing Tove, an engaging biopic of Tove Jansson, the Finnish creator of the Moomins. There have been several full-length animations based on these delightful stories. But Zaida Bergroth's fifth feature most definitely isn't for those younger viewers who enjoyed Maria Lindberg's Moomin and Midsummer Madness (2008) and Moomins and the Comet Chase (2010), Xavier Picard's Moomins on the Riviera (2014), and Ira Carpelan and Jakub Wronski's Moomins and the Winter Wonderland (2017).


As the Second World War comes to an end, 30 year-old Tove Jansson (Alma Pöysti) defies the advice of her Finnish sculptor father, Viktor (Robert Enckell), and Swedish graphic designer mother, Signe (Kajsa Ernst), to keep sketching her Moominvalley characters rather than devote herself to her painting. Despite failing to secure a government grant, Tove moves into a rundown apartment and embarks upon an affair with socialist politician, Atos Wirtanen (Shanti Roney), who is married to Maj-Lis (Emma Klingenberg).


At a social gathering, she also accepts a commission from theatre director Vivica Bandler (Krista Kosonen) to design a birthday party invitation for her father, Erik von Frenckell (Dick Idman), who is the mayor of Helsinki. She attends out of politeness, but amuses Vivica with her frank comments on politics and they dance together on the snowy terrace.


Tove is unnerved when Vivica asks if she has ever kissed a woman and is embarrassed when they are interrupted by her husband, Kurt (Simon Häger). But she spends the night and takes the initiative when she breakfasts in Vivica's room. Despite hiding under the covers when the maid comes in, Tove feels at ease with Vivica and they adopt the pet names Thingumy and Bob and invent their own secret language. She tells Atos about the affair and he goes with the flow when Vivica invites Tove to Paris in 1947 after persuading her father to commission a mural for the city hall.


The design takes longer than expected and Tove is angry when Vivica returns with pretty ballerina in tow. She feels betrayed when she hears that she is one of Vivica's many lovers, but can't resist her allure and not only throws herself into a wild `welcome home' party, but also agrees to write and design a stage musical based on Comet in Moominland. During rehearsals, however, she catches Vivica with another woman and persuades the newly divorced Atos to marry her. He is crushed when she wakes after their first night as husband and wife to confess she is thinking of Vivica.


The show opens to popular acclaim, with even Tove's disapproving father attending the premiere. But her life remains a struggle and, in 1952, she is forced to sign up to the London Evening News to produce six cartoon strips a week. The work is demanding and she asks her brother, Lars (Wilhelm Enckell), to help.


In need of a break, she accepts an invitation from old friend Maya (Eeva Putro) to see the paintings husband Sam Vanni (Jakob Öhrman) has had accepted into an exhibition in Paris. There, Tove meets Tuulikki Pietilä (Joanna Haartti) and they hit the Left Bank. Tove bumps into Vivica and declares her love, only to have it tearfully rebuffed. They spent the night together, but Tove knows she has to let her dragon return to the wild and leaves next morning.


When her father dies, Tove discovers that he had kept a scrapbook of all her press cuttings. Shortly afterwards, a gust of wind blows all the papers in her apartment and she smiles. She starts to paint again and, when Tuulikki pays her a visit, she reveals that the picture is called `The Beginner'.


Over home movie footage of Tove dancing frantically, captions reveal that she remained with Tuulikki until her death in 2001. However, she remained friends with Atos and Vivica, who later confessed to regretting not having the courage to return Tove's love.


Despite the artistic differences between Tove Jansson and close peer Touko Laaksonen, this would make for an intriguing double bill with Dome Karukoski's Tom of Finland (2017). However, Bergroth and screenwriter Eeva Putro take such a conventional approach to these formative events in Tove's life that this could also be paired just as effectively with something like Wash Westmoreland's equally conservative Colette (2018).


By focusing on the period after the war, Bergroth and Putro discard such details as Tove publishing her first book when she was just 13. They also make no reference to her student days in Stockholm, Paris and Rome or the wartime stress she experienced over her missing soldier brother, Per Olov, which clearly seeped into the first two Moomin books.


More might also have been made of the fact that same-sex relationships were illegal in Finland at the time and that Tove was taking a risk by including mentions of mymbling and the secret language of Thingumy and Bob, whose love is symbolised in the books by the ruby they hide in their suitcase.


Having played Tove (whom she closely resembles) on stage and voiced Snorkmaiden in the Finnish version of Moomins on the Riviera, Alma Pöysti is perfectly cast, as she captures the artist's elusive blend of spirit and timidity. This is reinforced by both the realisation that her painting will never be as popular as her illustrations and the acceptance of the fact that she is fated to be loved by a man for who she can only feel affection and to love a woman who can never commit. However, Bergroth never quite captures the quiet steel of a woman who ignored the overtures of Walt Disney or the frustration of an artist who once confided that she wished she could `vomit on the Moomintrolls'.


Krista Kosonen and Shanti Roney provide solid support as part of an estimable ensemble. However, this is very much a crew triumph, as Bergroth repeats the commendable production values of Maria's Paradise (2019), her profile of 1920s trance preacher Maria Åkerblom.


Shooting on 16mm, cinematographer Linda Wassberg superbly contrasts the interiors designed by Catharina Nyqvist Ehrnrooth, while also making the most of the odd city view and shot of the Finnish coast. Eugen Tamberg's costumes make equally astute use of colour to highlight the emotional space between Tove and Vivica, with the respective woolly jumper and red dress worn in Paris being inspired. Editor Samu Heikkilä maintains a steady pace, which is nicely counterpointed by the disparities between Matti Bye's orchestral score and the jazzier numbers provided by his Mambo Noir Trio. Equally astute is the use of Edith Piaf's bewitching `C'est Merveilleux' and Benny Goodman's pounding `Sing Sing Sing'. It's just a shame that Moomins don't dance.


JUMBO.


Cinema has never shied away from less conventional forms of desire. Agalmatophilia made a brief appearance when Lya Lys sucked a statue's toes in Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dalí's L'Age d'or (1930), since when, Christopher Lambert, Andrew McCarthy and Ryan Gosling have respectively lost their hearts to dolls in Marco Ferreri's I Love You (1986), Michael Gottlieb's Mannequin (1987) and Craig Gillespie's Lars and the Real Girl (2007).


Moving on to mechanophilia, Keith Gordon became obsessed with a 1958 Plymouth Fury in John Carpenter's adaptation of Stephen King's Christine (1983), while Joaquin Phoenix falls under the spell of an intelligent virtual assistant (voiced by Scarlett Johansson) in Spike Jonze's Her (2013). On the flip side, a computer named Edgar becomes jealous of Lenny Von Dohlen's relationship with Virginia Madsen in Steve Barron's Electric Dreams (1984).


A number of documentaries have been made about objectophilia, including Agnieszka Piotrowska's Married to the Eiffel Tower (2008) and William Spahic's Animism: People Who Love Objects (2013). However, Zoé Wittock's Jumbo seems to be the first fictional study of object sexuality, although it has clearly been influenced by such true-life cases as Erika LaBrie's long-term relationships with the Eiffel Tower and the Berlin Wall, Pennsylvania church organist Amy Wolfe's 2009 romance with a 1001 Nacht roller coaster and Linda Ducharme's 2013 marriage to a Florida Ferris wheel named Bruce.


Twentysomething Jeanne Tantois (Noémie Merlant) fantasises about close encounters with mechanical objects. Indeed, we first see her waking from a sense-tingling dream in a fairy-lit bedroom filled with handmade models of fairground rides. Mother Margarette (Emmanuelle Bercot) - who calls her `Sugarpuss' - disapproves of this obsession, but still drops her daughter at the amusement park, where she is about to resume her seasonal job as a night shift cleaner.


New boss Marc (Bastien Bouillon) takes a shine to Jeanne, but she is too bashful to chat and seeks sanctuary at the fast food kiosk run by her friend, Fati (Tracy Dossou). Pulling up her hood, she tries to ignore the gang of youths prowling the park and only feels safe when darkness falls and she's left alone to clean. Clambering on to the new `Move It' ride, she spits on a rag to clean its red light bulbs. As she does the same the following night, she hears a creaking sound and goes to check if anyone is intruding.


Annoyed with Margarette for trying to matchmake her with Marc, Jeanne tries to avoid him. But he persists and she is taken by something his mother once said: `Inanimate objects, do you have a soul, which sticks to our soul and forces it to love?' She shows him her models, including on of the `Move It' she has renamed, `Jumbo', and he suggests she enters the annual `Employee of the Year' competition.


Having masturbated in the bath thinking of Jumbo, Jeanne starts talking to him while cleaning him. She climbs on top of him and loses her footing when Margarette calls. But Jumbo calmly lowers her to the ground, as she clings to a girder. She rushes to his control booth and turns on his lights and teases him with her torch beam. He groans in response and agrees to answer questions by flashing green for `yes' and red for `no'. When Jeanne asks if he can take her for a ride, she straps herself into a seat and orgasms, as he whirls her through space.


Meanwhile, Margarette has met Hubert (Sam Louwyck) at the bar where she works. She has had several lovers since being deserted by Jeanne's father, but this feels special. Yet she can't appreciate why Jeanne has feelings for Jumbo and worries she has a screw loose when she introduces her and straps her in for a ride. Refusing to let her mother spoil her romance, Jeanne continues to drape herself over Jumbo in the middle of the night.


When she notices droplets of oil on his metalwork, Jeanne savours the odour on her fingers. Stripping to her underwear, she goes on all fours on a bright white background, as a pool of oil oozes towards her. She samples its viscosity by sinking her hand into the velvety liquid and even laps at it with her tongue. Lying back, she allows herself to be covered with black lubricant and repeats the words of Marc's mother, as she hugs her pillow after a sensual shower.


Margarette is baffled by the dalliance, however, and feels so embarrassed in front of Hubert when Jeanne claims that Jumbo gives her sexual fulfilment that she throws her out of the house. She imagines everyone on the bus is staring at her because she smells of oil and shakes off Marc to run through the park and cling to Jumbo, even though it's in motion. The troublesome boys film the incident on their phones, as Marc tells the operator to shut down the ride.


Creeping in through her bedroom window, Jeanne discovers that Margarette has smashed her models. They fight, Jeanne struggles to make her mother understand that Jumbo makes her feel what she can only describe as love. Yet, when she reaches the fairground, she ignores the ride's rasps and grinds and pleads with it to leave her alone. Losing control, she attacks Jumbo with an iron bar and he weeps oil over her, as he cowers down with red lights glowing with dejection.


Running through the rain, she shelters with Marc and offers herself to him. Before leaving, she whispers that she doesn't want to marry Marc and rushes back to Jumbo. However, he fails to respond to her embrace, even when she peels off her top and lets his oil smear her face. Marc looks on aghast and accuses Jeanne of making a fool of him. She can't understand why he cannot accept her feelings for Jumbo and calls Margarette to hiss her hatred down the phone.


That night, she hunkers down beside Jumbo, who rears up and begins spinning with his light blurring against the night sky. She hopes he has forgiven her and attends the last night party with a sense of calm. In presenting her with the Employee of the Year award, however, Marc breaks the news that Jumbo is to be sold, as he's not made enough money. Jeanne passes out and Hubert carries her to Margarette's car.


The next day, Marc calls to tell Margarette that Jumbo is going to be dismantled and Jeanne realises that they have conspired against her. Hubert is dismayed by them and walks out on Margarette, who is crushed. But, when Jeanne appears in a wedding dress, she agrees to accompany her to the fairground, where Hubert joins them. He conducts the ceremony and confiscates the cameras of the mocking kids before making a bolt for the car in hazy slow-motion, after Jumbo says `I do' by magically creating a breeze that blows Jeanne's veil away.


Having steadily built a reputation with the shorts Réveille-toi Sonia (2008), This Is Not an Umbrella (2011). Still (2012) and A demi-mot (2014), Zoé Wittock makes a confident feature bow with this sensitive, but unsentimental of an objectum-sexual. Much depends on the conviction of Noémie Merlant's performance, as she engages physically with a towering chunk of metal, while sporting a tomboy wardrobe and a daggy bob. But she also conveys the confusion Jeanne feels, as she comes to terms with her emotions and with the negativity of those she wants to be happy for her.


Given that we learn little about Merlant's psychological history, more might have been made of her friendship with Tracy Dossou, especially as the `romance' with boss Bastien Bouillon doesn't really work. The bad lad taunting also falls flat, while it seems inconceivable that Jeanne's antics wouldn't attract the attention of her co-workers (as she can hardly clean the entire park alone). But acceptance finally comes from outsider Sam Louwyck, who reminds the wonderfully blowsy Emmanuelle Bercot what she stands to lose if she fails to get on her daughter's wavelength.


For all the cast's endeavours, however, they are upstaged by Jumbo, a rearing, whirling pendulum ride at the Plopsa Coo amusement park in the Belgian town of Coo. It's tempting to think he has a picture of the spaceship from Steven Spielberg's Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) pinned up in his control room.


Clearly inspired by that film's pyrotechnics, Wittock, production designer William Abello and cinematographer Thomas Buelens make atmospheric use of Jumbo's shiny paintwork and gleaming bulbs. But the sense of metallurgic exhilaration comes from Thomas Fernandez's nimble editing, Thomas Roussel's synthy score, and the combination of the sound and lighting designs and the special visual effects that transform Jumbo from a machine into a character.


Ultimately, the story doesn't delve deeply enough beneath its quirky surface, while the denouement is decidedly underwhelming. But, even though it doesn't always rivet, there's more than enough here to justify you rolling up to buy a ticket to ride.


POSTER BOYS.


Struggling to pay his rent by placing promotional lottery cutouts in Dublin shop windows, Al Clancy (Trevor O'Connell) reluctantly agrees to mind his 10 year-old nephew, Karl (Ryan Minogue-Lee), when sister Aoife (Aoife Spratt) wins a radio competition to spend the weekend at the Primavera Sound Festival in Barcelona. Forced to travel to Kilkenny by moped when his car gives out, Al is late to collect Karl from school and gets a lecture from Miss Hughes (Amy Hughes), who keeps giving the boy lines for selling homework answers to his classmates.


More preoccupied with his online dating site than Karl's Saturday football tournament, Al wanders into town, where he bumps into Miss Hughes. She teases him for being clueless about kids and suggests his best way of connecting with Karl is by being a bit of an idiot. When he asks his nephew about her, he claims Miss Hughes was sacked from her previous job for attempting to murder her boss.


The weekend passes without incident until Al decides to draw a cartoon beard on Karl's face in indelible ink. When the boy refuses to go to school and reveals that Aoife is away for the whole week, they steal a camper van belonging to Al's mother, Minnie (Norma Sheahan), and drive to Dublin so Al can pick up his next consignment of cutouts. Karl negotiates a deal with boss Joe (Joe Rooney) to deliver to 40 shops around the south in return for a fixed fee and expenses and Al is impressed by his nephew's confidence with grown-ups.


Deciding the sleep in the van, the pair begin to bond, as Karl keeps wrapping Joe around his finger whenever he calls him. He also starts taking the photos to send back to prove that Al has placed the cutouts. As they drive through picturesque towns and spectacular natural scenery, they come to realise that they have much in common, as Al is a big kid and Karl is wise beyond his years.


On reaching Kerry, Karl discovers that Al has friended Miss Hughes on Tinder and she is sending him homework. They go to a fancy dress party and Al is impressed by the way Karl throws himself into dancing with some girls. However, they return to find the van has been ransacked and they have to complete the last six stops with cutouts swiped back from other stores.


Karl has to be back for a football match and is frustrated with Al for refusing to practice with him. He's also fed up when they enter a pub quiz and lose by a single point because Al ignores his nephew's answer to the final question. However, when Al announces that Karl will have to miss the game in order to return the camera to Joe in Dublin, the lad has a tantrum and erases the pictures from the memory card.


They drive back to Kilkenny in silence and Al drops Karl at the football pitch. He returns the van to his mother and borrows the money for his rent, which he spends on beer to drink on the bridge where an old school friend had recently committed suicide. Knowing his uncle had experienced dark moments, Karl goes looking for him and almost falls into the river before Al grabs him by the wrist.


Aoife and Minnie rush up and everyone stands on the bridge to watch the fireworks popping over the city. Al decides to stay and gets a job in a café and comes to watch Karl play football with Miss Hughes. They seem to have won the lottery without even buying a ticket.


Having spent a decade undertaking all manner of screen-related jobs, Dave Minogue makes a highly creditable debut as writer-director with this unconventional road movie. With its keen eye for the glories of Ireland, it would make a grand double bill with Elfar Adalsteins's End of Sentence (2019). However, its roots lie more obviously in Vittorio De Sica's Bicycle Thieves (1948) and Peter Foott's The Young Offenders (2016). although there's even a nod to Father Ted (1995-98) in the form of the bickering shopkeeping couple.


Minogue seemingly based Al and Karl on himself and nephew Ryan Minogue-Lee, who excels on his first appearance in front of a camera. Much is down to the smartness of the writing, but Minogue-Lee delivers wiseacre quips and sombre reflections with equal aplomb. He is splendidly supported by Trevor O'Connell, who makes his sketchily limned sadsack suitably sympathetic, although there's no way Miss Hughes would either be on Tinder or fall for him.


The script also misfires in a couple more crucial places, as the initial weekend is a haphazard muddle, while the events between Karl berating his mother and grandmother and his last-gasp rescue on the bridge by his uncle feel tackily soap operatic. Otherwise, Minogue should be commended for using imagery more often than banter to chart Al and Karl's growing bond, for which he's indebted to cinematographer Trevor Murphy, editor John Philipson and Vyvienne Long, whose jaunty score helps the miles slip by.


TO BE SOMEONE.


Sharply dressed scooter rider Danny the Face (Sam Gittins) runs a Mod nightclub called The Punchbowl, which had been founded by his dad. He thinks he's in a partnership with Roger the Fix (Johnny Davis), but discovers he's really in cahoots with Mad Mike (Scott Peden), a short-fused villain who threatens to harm Danny's wife, Linda (Laura McGonagle), and two daughters unless he recovers a consignment of dodgy blue buzzbombs that was stashed on the Isle of Wight by Ginger Nick (Eddie Webber) before he went inside for 15 years.


Danny also owns a bike garage that's managed by Ken the Perv (Perry Benson), while the rooms over the shop are occupied by an escort agency run by Uncle Tommy (Mark Wingett), with the help of Bunny (Toyah Wilcox) and Danny's mum, Judy (Leslie Ash). They find the antics of their seedy customers (which are shown in cutaways) cacklingly hilarious, but Danny is decidedly not amused when he discovers that Tommy is also in hock to Mad Mike, whose estranged son, Vinny (Marc Pickering), warns Danny that his dad doesn't deal in idle threats.


With the cops being in Mike's pocket and brother Old Jack (Anthony May) refusing to betray him - even though he loathes him for the drug death of their middle sibling - Danny is forced to turn to Tommy and Rudi (Trevor Laird) for help. They hit on a plan to attend the island scooter rally and stitch up Mike, bent copper Dickson (Ray Burdis) and the Yardies who are after Rudi and Tommy for a botched deal back in the day.


With Sharp Steve (Jared Garfield) and Charlie Boy (Gary Shail) coming along for the ride, the bikers mingle with the ferry crowds in their new Mod threads. Once at the venue near Sandown, they find the ruined manor house where Nick stashed the gear and retrieve it ridiculously easily from a tomb in the supposedly haunted graveyard. Once back on the mainland, they lure the baddies into a trap and the cops round them up with absolutely no fuss.


It's almost as if everyone involved in Ray Burdis's Mockney romp suddenly got bored and decided to wrap things up with as few camera set-ups as possible, with the result that the plot's intricate convolutions are resolved in the blink of an eye. This is a shame, as while Pete Meadows's plotting is as clunky as his dialogue, the cast socks things across with a palpable sense that everyone is having a good time.


Much has been made of the fact that Leslie Ash, Toyah Willcox, Gary Shail, Trevor Laird and Mark Wingett are alumni of Franc Roddam's Quadrophenia (1979). But Burdis has been keen to point out that this isn't a sequel. Indeed, it owes much more to Guy Ritchie in his BritCrime pomp, as editor Gabriel Foster Prior bestrews the action with split-screens, flashcuts and cutaways that are largely employed to accommodate some retro rock numbers from the Earlestown outfit The K's, although they're somewhat upstaged by a nifty reggae turn by Trevor Laird.


There are also numerous speeches to Ali Asad's camera, as Sam Gittins introduces characters and slips in a juicy anecdote about them before explaining how they fit into the meandering storyline. Someone should have had second thoughts about Perry Benson's creepy pillion-sniffing pursuit of Amelia Bath, while some of the peripheral players might have benefited from a squeeze of his oil can. The visual effects during the car driving and haunted house sequences could also have done with sprucing up.


There's nothing here we haven't seen a dozen times before, while Meadows and Burdis offer no insights whatsoever into the wider social context of Danny and his ageing Mod cronies. Yet this nestles efficiently enough beside Final Cut (1998), Love, Honour and Obey (2000), The Wee Man (2013) and Angel (2015) on Burdis's directorial CV.


PHIL LIGGETT: THE VOICE OF CYCLING.


Although it's not due in cinemas until 26 July, it somehow feels wrong not to review Eleanor Sharpe and Nickolas Bird's Phil Liggett: The Voice of Cycling while the 108th Tour de France is not still on the road. It's not often that commentators get their own documentaries, but Liggett clearly deserves the accolade after covering 44 Tours and 15 Olympic Games. Moreover, he knows he's in good hands with the Australian co-directors after having narrated MAMIL, their 2017 tribute to middle-aged men in Lycra.


Born in Bebington on the Wirral in August 1943, Phil Liggett started cycling while working as a keeper at Chester Zoo. His love of animals means that he and wife Trish spend their winters at a remote property in South Africa's Kruger National Park, where they help the local rangers combat rhino poachers. Handily, Liggett also claims that birdwatching helps him identify riders in the peloton.


Having decamped to Belgium in 1961, Liggett enjoyed a decent career and took prizes at over 20 races. He found himself up against Eddie Merckx and realised he didn't have the legs to become a top professional. But he started writing diary columns for British magazines and landed a job at Cycling Weekly in 1967. As it was good publicity, Liggett also continued to race and report from the field.


On going freelance, he took up the microphone at races and developed his commentary skills. He also qualified as a commissaire and followed a stint on the Tour of Ireland by becoming the technical director of the Milk Race, a post he would hold between 1972-93. His assistant was former Olympic speed skater Trish Tipper and they became such an established team that they got married.


In 1973, David Saunders from ITV's World of Sport invited Liggett to drive for him at the Tour de France. When Saunders perished in a car crash in 1978, Liggett took over and remained in the commentary box when Channel Four started to produce live coverage in the 1980s. He persuaded domestique Paul Sherwen to share the duties and they became an inseparable double act, as they hopped between British, American and worldwide networks and feeds. Every clip used here confirms the ease of their byplay and the expertise of their analysis.


During the 1992 Tour, Liggett and Sherwen had their car bombed by Basque separatists and he had to follow the next day's action from the back of a motorbike without a helmet. Typically, he kept calm and carried on and now insists at speaker events that it was a blessing in disguise as all of Sherwen's awful CDs were lost in the blaze. He still finds it difficult to believe he has a fan base and is embarrassed by the blurb on the back of his book of Liggettisms, Dancing on the Pedals.


As we see the Liggetts organising charity events on behalf of the rhino, they discuss their 50-year marriage and how shared hobbies like narrow-boating have allowed them to make up for times spent apart. Consciously deciding against children, Trish accepted that cycling would always take priority and realised that she had to find ways to get involved rather than stay at home complaining.


In the 1980s, Trish was team director on five of the six stagings of the Grande Boucle Féminine Internationale and has since worked with a number of men's teams. She has also become an accomplished ballroom dancer, but her supportive husband prefers to read cycling books in the car between chauffeuring duties. Liggett has his own solo hobby, though, as he has a model railway layout in a garden studio and he recalls how he became hooked on trains while cycling in Britain in the 1960s.


One blot on the Liggett escutcheon, however, was his undying faith in Lance Armstrong. Journalist David Walsh accused him of being part of the conspiracy by turning a blind eye. But Liggett insists that he had seen the impact that Armstrong had on those battling cancer and never doubted his good intentions in riding charity events. He often served as MC at dinners and Q&A sessions and some felt he was in Armstrong's pocket. Consequently, there's an edge to Walsh's remarks about Liggett being naive in selling the hero narrative and he admits that his blood ran cold when he listened to the confession with Oprah Winfrey. But his conscience is clear and he remains popular with riders and audiences nearly a decade later.


That said, he is now only broadcasting on NBC in the United States, as he and Sherwen were dropped from the UCI World feed and ITV also moved on. He shrugs that all good things must come to an end, but the Armstrong tainting must have played as big a part in the decision as the switch to greater tactical analysis and less banter about the landmarks on the Tour. But their 33-year partnership also came to an end when Sherwen died of heart failure at the age of 62 at his home in Uganda on 2 December 2018.


He went back to do the 106th Tour with new sidekicks and the support he received from the Australian SBS Network meant as much to him as the honorary doctorate he receives in the closing scene. Given he is also backing a safe haven for rhinos Down Under, it's readily evident to see the impact he has made wherever he has gone. Long may his wheels roll.


Dipping out of the chronological overview to examine Liggett's life with Trish and their conservation work, this is a fine tribute to a decent man and an exemplary commentator. It's a shame that the film won't be released while Liggett is calling the 108th Tour on NBC, as he is still very much part of the furniture.


He seems to have persuaded Eleanor Sharpe and Nickolas Bird to devote plenty of time to Trish and their rhino cause and he gets the message across with his trademark clarity and precision. The editing of the co-directors and Tony Stevens is also acute, although they might have pressed Liggett harder on some of the great cyclists he has seen, his favourite Tour routes and some of the best finishes.


The fact that Sharpe and Bird are based in Melbourne rather prevents Liggett from dwelling on the achievements of Bradley Wiggins, Chris Froome and Geraint Thomas, not to mention Mark Cavendish, the Manxman who equalled Belgian ace Eddie Merckx's record of 34 stage wins while this review was being written. Timing is everything.


But sports fans will be intrigued to see something of Liggett's life away from the commentary box. With homes in England and South Africa, he's clearly done well for himself and no one would begrudge him a long and fulfilled retirement. But don't bank on the soon-to-be 78 year-old hanging up his microphone just yet.


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