Onside with Eric

Looking for Eric is not a comedy exactly, but it is Ken Loach’s lightest, happiest film for some time.

Written by Loach’s long-time collaborator Paul Laverty, this is a wacky if erratic and self-conscious buddy movie about a depressed middle-aged postman and Manchester United fan called Eric Bishop (Steve Evets), who suffers a breakdown brought on by family troubles and an immoderate consumption of his stepson’s weed supply.

In this fragile, delusional condition he is visited by his great, barrel-chested, monobrowed hero, Eric Cantona, King Eric — who is played, as it says in the credits, by “lui-même”.

Poor Eric Bishop is in a right state. He is twice divorced and stuck with looking after the errant stepchildren from his second failed marriage. The grown-up daughter from his first has just made him a granddad and it is only when he agrees to mind the baby every afternoon before handing it over to his first wife, Lily, played by Stephanie Bishop, that he realises he is still in love with her.

This is a man in dire need of life coaching. A visit from Sir Alex Ferguson, with his “hairdryer” pep talks, might have been too harsh. Fortunately, he is advised by a man with a finer and more sympathetic sense of philosophy, manhood and l’amour. King Eric therapeutically listens to Eric’s troubles and dishes out advice and plenty of those extraordinary pensées. He even gets Eric to stop sipping lager and try a little wine.


Looking for Eric is a film that touches on one of the great tragedies of life: that it can never attain the perfection, and importance, of sport. If only our chaotic and unsatisfactory lives could achieve its clarity; if only our sporting heroes could help us. Loach fans will remember Brian Glover’s legendary fantasy football commentary sequence from Kes, and, for me, the film also brought back happy memories of Jack Rosenthal’s 1982 TV film, P’Tang Yang Kipperbang, with a teenage cricket fanatic hearing the growling voice of John Arlott in his head.

Laverty and Loach must have been inspired also by Woody Allen’s Play It Again, Sam, in which a nerdy film buff gets romantic advice from Humphrey Bogart. The difference is that Allen did not actually have Bogart, whereas Loach has the great Cantona himself in his starting line-up.

That is perhaps a problem. The whole film seems overexcited and overawed by Cantona’s authentic presence. When he delivered his famous line at the press conference about the trawler and the sardines (nostalgically reprised over the final credits) he did it with glacial slowness, so that reporters would not miss a word. Now Cantona has different ideas about delivery.

As he is a fully fledged legend, professional actor and indeed this film’s executive producer, it can’t be easy, even for Loach, to tell him how to speak the dialogue or play himself. So Cantona is allowed to throw his lines away: he gabbles them, he burbles them, he murmurs them, as it were, into his upturned collar. Sometimes he speaks French, sometimes English in a heavy accent, and it isn’t easy to tell which is which.

But this is real Cantona, organic Cantona, Cantona unplugged. If his line readings are a little eccentric, well … what of it? He always has a mischievous twinkle, a cheeky touch of self-satire, mixed in with his unfaked and unfakable amour propre. When the awed Bishop asks Cantona what he did during his suspension, and Cantona replies that he learned the trumpet, and proceeds to take one out and play, it is a gloriously surreal moment.

The part of Eric Bishop is also interesting casting. Evets is a jobbing performer and former musician who is one of those many people who were once in The Fall and, like so many, fell out with lead singer Mark E Smith. He doesn’t look like an actor, with actorish mannerisms; he seems like a real, likable guy with real emotions, and his perennial stunned expression of “what-am-I-doing-here-and-what-is-going-on?” is very appropriate.

My problem with Looking for Eric is the uneasy lurch it takes into darker dramatic territory. One of Bishop’s stepsons gets involved with a dodgy gangster and psychopathic bully: it’s a connection that leads to ugly, tense scenes and a terrifying police raid. All through this bleaker stretch, Cantona is entirely absent from the film, and this will be disappointing for those King Eric fans who might assume he was going to be on the field for the full 90 minutes.

Bishop finally comes up with a plan to subdue the gangster, a plan that in the real world would not work for one moment, and there is an odd, almost childishly naive feel to the film at this point. Considering that Loach is rightly celebrated as a master of social realism, this is very unreal. But then again, once you’ve got Cantona popping up and giving life lessons, maybe realism isn’t the main priority.

Looking for Eric isn’t a Loach masterpiece, but it’s great fun and is set fair to be his first commercial smash since Kes. No one would begrudge him a well-earned box-office hit from such an amiable film. —

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Related stories

Red Devils have found their superstar

In Bruno Fernandes the club have finally found that talismanic midfield playmaker to build a team around

Football: Sanchez, Mkhitaryan on brink of blockbuster swap deal

United – without a Premier League title since 2013 – are second in the Premier League and are desperate to close the gap on their fierce rivals.

Sex on the beach: A brief history of Cannes and erotic cinema

Since the 1960s there has always been plenty of flesh at Cannes. As the red carpet is rolled out, Peter Bradshaw awards his own Palme Phwoar.

Birdman: A delirious, crazy showbiz comedy takes flight

Michael Keaton is tremendous as the superhero movie star trying to reinvent himself as a serious actor in Alejandro González Iñárritu's 'Birdman'.

Allen’s Jasmine is the cinephile’s perfume

Peter Bradshaw reviews Woody Allen's Blue Jasmine.

Degrees of separation

In A Separation, Iranian writer-director Asghar Farhadi takes a scalpel to his bourgeois homeland.
Advertising

Subscribers only

SAA bailout raises more questions

As the government continues to grapple with the troubles facing the airline, it would do well to keep on eye on the impending Denel implosion

ANC’s rogue deployees revealed

Despite 6 300 ANC cadres working in government, the party’s integrity committee has done little to deal with its accused members

More top stories

Finance probe into the Ingonyama Trust Board goes ahead

The threat of legal action from ITB chairperson Jerome Ngwenya fails to halt forensic audit ordered by the land reform minister

Ailing Far East Rand hospital purchases ‘vanity’ furniture

Dr Zacharia Mathaba, who purchased the furniture, is a suspected overtime fraudster and was appointed as Gauteng hospital chief executive despite facing serious disciplinary charges

Eusebius McKaiser: Reject the dichotomy of political horrors

Senekal shows us that we must make a stand against the loud voice of the populist EFF and racist rightwingers

Seals abort pups in mass die-off

There are a number of factors — a pollutant, virus or bacteria or malnutrition — may have caused the 12 000 deaths on Namibia’s coast
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday