VOD film review: Wimbledon (2004)
James R | On 10, Jul 2022
Director: Richard Loncraine
Cast: Paul Bettany, Kirsten Dunst, Sam Neill, James McAvoy
From Valentine’s Day to New Year’s Eve, cinema has seen a number of films designed to have a long shelf life, as audiences watch them on certain occasions each year. But while most of these aren’t worth revisiting, there’s one contender that has a winning streak every time it returns to our screens: Wimbledon.
Richard Loncraine’s tennis-themed rom-com serves up the dream Hollywood vision of the SW19 tournament, full of cliches and contrivances ripped from every romantic comedy playbook you can think of. Paul Bettany plays Peter Colt, an ageing tennis player who was once ranked 11th in the world but is now somewhere in the hundreds. Given a wildcard entry to Wimbledon, he takes it with an eye to enjoy one last turn on the court before giving up and taking a coaching job at a posh tennis club. Except his farewell lap turns into an unexpected run of victories – coinciding with an equally unlikely romance with rising women’s tennis star Lizzie Bradbury (Kirsten Dunst).
And so the grass is mown and the lines drawn for a Notting Hill-worthy clash of opposites. Lizzie, surrounded by press and speculation over her relationship with fellow top-flight player Jake Hammond (Austin Nichols), is watched like a hawk by her stern father, Dennis (Sam Neill). Peter is repeatedly bet against by his roguish brother, Carl (James McAvoy) and is patiently tolerating his father (Bernard Hill) living in a tree house in the garden after a bitter feud with his mother (Eleanor Bron).
And yet the pair can’t help but be drawn to each other, their mix of grounded realism and career ambition proving a charming, if surprising, fit. That’s thanks in no small part to Bettany and Dunst’s chemistry, which comes with a volley of earnestness that stops the script feeling too cynical. Kirsten Dunst is perfectly sprightly as the determined professional, while Paul Bettany – cast in a role that was intended for Hugh Grant – brings his own energy to a leading man role that the Four Weddings star never could have. He’s awkward, downbeat and sympathetic in a way that makes Peter Colt an everyman to root for, and his delivery makes the dialogue sound convincing at every implausible twist.
The use of real Wimbledon locations add some weight to the film’s game, with director Richard Loncraine serving up some juicy tennis visuals matched only by Borg vs McEnroe 13 years later. A nerve-jangling device designed to convey Colt’s anxiety adds a spiky edge to proceedings, while cameos from actual tennis stars lob some convincing flourishes alongside the beautifully fuzzy CGI balls.
The result is a delightful and warm accompaniment to the summer sporting season, one that doesn’t just invite repeat viewings but rewards them with the kind of underdog pay-off that makes this a smashing treat.