Give Them Wings review – paean to Darlington FC and the power of compassion
While we’re waiting for Ryan Reynolds’ Wrexham AFC film, here is a lower-league paean to Darlington FC in the shape of a sometimes clunky but disarmingly sincere autobiopic. It’s written by Paul Hodgson, dramatising his own upbringing after a diagnosis of meningococcal meningitis as a 10-month-old; he was predicted to live only a few short years. Yet, though in a wheelchair with speech and motor-coordination issues, he grows up (played by Daniel Watson) to become a hard-drinking Quakers fan with a lively social life. At home though, he is saddled with being the middleman between fractious mum Alice (Toyah Willcox) and sullen dad Norman (Bill Fellows) who – “robbed of a son” – has checked out of life.
Especially in its first quarter, Give Me Wings leans unthinkingly on the plucky northern-underdog template; the domestic sparring and laddy larks feellike they are torn out of canonical kitchen-sink predecessors. But it quickly finds more focus, as Paul’s move into his own house and then Alice’s own sudden slip into disability puts family allegiances under further strain. Hodgson’s account of his life is admirably unselfpitying and, when he has an affair with his mother’s carer, he is matter-of-fact and even droll about sexuality as a disabled person. The film rides out the occasional divot of awkward storytelling through its steady belief in
Sean Cronin’s direction is slightly stagey, with a penchant for wide-angled interiors with dazzling light pouring through the window. But, as a longtime actor (with an exhaustive CV of thugs of one kind or another), he gets supple, generous performances from his cast across the board. So much so that, as they usher Paul to realising his dreams of flight (naturally, over the Quakers’ stadium), this cinematic contrivance stays aloft for the audience with little bother. There’s some of the innocence and goodwill of vintage British studio-era films here.