tue 23/07/2019

Marvellous, BBC Two | reviews, news & interviews

Marvellous, BBC Two

Marvellous, BBC Two

Toby Jones shines in a fantasy football drama that happens to be true

There's only two Neil Baldwins: Toby Jones and Neil Baldwin

Marvellous reviews itself in its title. The story of Neil Baldwin starring Toby Jones was – and is, because you should catch it while you can on iPlayer – simply marvellous. As a dramatic character Neil Baldwin could be mistaken for unremarkable. He has no hidden depths. Positioned somewhere along the autistic spectrum, he is apparently away with the fairytales, but his grandiose fantasies mostly happened to be true. Though droll without always intending to be, he has an enviable gift for friendship. And his story has something to teach us about civility and good cheer and holding on to your dreams.

The story as told by Peter Bowker was fairly simple and, at the same time, deeply unusual. When we first met him Neil was working as a clown on tour in Scotland. "I'm not a mong," he would later claim, "I'm a registered clown." But he soon got fired and had to hitchhike back home to Stoke where his devout mother (Gemma Jones) worried about how he would keep himself busy. He’s always busy, he explained. “I’m behind on my birdwatching, Gerry Cottle’s in town and I’m writing an extra verse for the Lord’s Prayer.”

And he was always busy. He sauntered over to Keele University, put on a dog collar – because Neil has a gift for fancy dress – and started greeting freshers on campus. Soon he became a regular feature, attending lectures, making friends, starting his own football team in which he barely got a kick. He was also a devotee of Stoke City. Hanging around the stadium a lot he got chatting to the new manager Lou Macari (Tony Curran), who liked the cut of his jib and invite him inside to become the kit man. He became so beloved at the club – by players and fans – that the crowd took to chanting “There’s only one Neil Baldwin!”

In Peter Bowker’s playful script there were in fact two Neil Baldwins. Toby Jones – who brilliantly captured the poker face of an unknowing clown - now and then asked the real Neil about the facts of his life. “Did you feel he was picking on you because your difficulties?” “What difficulties?” The idea was to interrogate the sheer unbelievability of a life in which Baldwin got himself invited to lunch with Tony Benn in the House of Commons, onto the Boat Race launch boat and selected to play for Stoke in a testimonial game. Lou Macari also turned up as himself in the dugout. “This really happened by the way,” he told himself. And there were a couple of other pleasing football cameos.

A drama without any difficulties at all would struggle to keep going for 90 minutes, and part of the tension of Marvellous lay in the possibility of something awful intruding on this charmed life. When Baldwin’s mother finally died, having fretted about how he’d cope without her, Jones’s sudden grief was heartbreaking. But for the most part Marvellous was a delightful and moving paean to Micawberesque good cheer. And like its subject, a genuine one-off.

Comments

One of the "nicest" 90 minutes of TV ever. Full of quality, format, story, acting, loved it from begining to end.

Refreshing like a good shower - Marvellous puts the world back in its rightful place - grateful for who we are and what we have - like Neil who decided he wanted to be happy and so he was.

Come on BAFTA - 'there's only one Toby Jones' - he must be a red hot favourite for best actor following this stunning performance. Put this 90 minutes on the curriculum and get all our students and young people to watch it - there are lessons in humility and simple triumph above seemingly impossible odds within it. It was deeply moving and uplifting. The world needs more Neil Baldwins!!

I loved every minute. Best tv I've seen for years. One of the many highlights for me was the real footage of macari being interviewed when Neil sauntered into shot dressed as a scotsman.

Superb drama - had me laughing and crying. Fabulous performances all round and Lou Macari is now my hero. He saw how 'among the blind the one eye man could become king.' Brilliant stuff.

Absolutely brilliant - what do we need to do to get this film recognition and a BAFTA? I'm sure Nello would have the answer.

beautifully written and irrritating idea that the grown ups patronise this poor man who is operating mentally at the age of two and a half

Add comment

Subscribe to theartsdesk.com

Thank you for continuing to read our work on theartsdesk.com. For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 10,000 pieces, we're asking for £3.95 per month or £30 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.

To take an annual subscription now simply click here.

And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a theartsdesk.com gift subscription?

newsletter

Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters