As UK cinemas prepare for the release of Paddy Considine’s new feature Journeyman, it’s a good time to think about the genre that Considine is working in: the boxing film. Asked to list some of the genre’s characteristics, the average movie-goer might say: a working-class setting, predictable rise and fall, lots of triumphalism, and something else … Americans. In spite of the sport’s Anglo-American genesis and its still immense popularity in the UK, few British films about the fight game – compared with the heft of Rocky or Raging Bull or Creed or Million Dollar Baby – have ever made a big dent, either at the box office or in the public consciousness.
Considine’s second film as director in fact turns away from the expectations of genre. His is a humane and realistic depiction of a fighter battling a brain injury. It eschews rags-to-riches tales, heroic comebacks or greedy mob fixers, and focuses simply on a wealthy professional athlete facing a heartbreaking situation. And beyond the film’s unexpected treatment of familiar sports terrain, there’s something else about Journeyman that’s nice: it’s homegrown.
There is a small sub-section of British film-makers who have shown a fascination with the sport, particularly vis-a-vis its connections to class, poverty and social realism. Among those ranks are Considine’s friend and collaborator Shane Meadows, whose debut 1997 feature about an amateur boxing gym, TwentyFour Seven, was nominated for best British film at the Baftas the following year, and actor-screenwriter Johnny Harris, who worked with Meadows on the TV series This Is England ’86 and its follow-ups.