MOVIE REVIEW : 'Playing Away' a Tart Look at Racial Tensions

Times Staff Writer

With "Playing Away" (today through Friday at the Nuart) writer Caryl Phillips and director Horace Ove have come up with a tart and funny idea and run with it.

The premise is as simple as its effects are complex: a rural English village invites a West Indian black cricket team from London's Brixton section for a weekend match. Obviously, the possibilities, both comic and serious, in this cultural exchange are endless, and the film makers seem not to have missed any of them. "Playing Away," however, is more modest than trenchant. Don't expect the energy or sharp cutting edge of a "Sammy and Rosie Get Laid" or a "My Beautiful Laundrette" but rather the bemused detachment of a vintage Ealing comedy.

Not surprisingly, there's wariness on both sides. But Willie Boy (Norman Beaton), the proud, wryly philosophical captain of the Conquistadors, is intent on accepting the invitation. Meanwhile, the captain of the Sneddington Cricket Club, the innocent but overweeningly self-satisfied Derek (Nicholas Farrell), is confident of a handy Sunday afternoon victory.

From the moment the visitors are greeted with the strains of "Jamaica Farewell," the film is crammed with incidents. For openers Willie Boy strikes up an acquaintance with an elderly ex-colonial (Robert Urquhart) who tends to read much into the match while a mini-skirted local tart (Elizabeth Anson) boldly sets her mark for Errol (Gary Beadle), one of the youngest and huskiest of the Conquistadors.

The most uncomfortable of the Conquistadors is Jeff (Trevor Thomas), a suave black urban professional who feels at home with neither the blacks nor the whites--but does strike a spark with Derek's bored, neglected wife (Sheila Ruskin).

For all the film's abundant humor, Ove, said to be Britain's first black film maker, and the Oxford-educated Phillips, never let us forget that racial tensions lurk beneath the occasion's aura of good will. Indeed, some local punks are ever-threatening to turn ugly. The film makers, however, are determined to be good sports--even as they reveal the Sneddington Cricket Club surprised to discover how hard that can be. "Playing Away" (Times-rated Mature for adult situations), which tends to lose the thread of some of its many vignettes, lacks the tautness and punch to be more than a minor accomplishment. Yet its various pleasures are subtle and genuine.

'PLAYING AWAY'

An Alive Films release of an Insight production for Film Four International. Producers Brian Skilton, Vijay Amarnani. Director Horace Ove. Screenplay Caryl Phillips. Associate producer Christopher Sutton. Camera Nic Knowland. Music director Simon Webb. Art director Pip Gardner. Costumes Alyson Ritchie. Film editor Graham Whitlock. With Norman Beaton, Robert Urquhart, Helen Lindsday, Nicholas Farrell, Brian Bovell, Gary Beadle, Suzette Llewellyn, Trevor Thomas, Sheila Ruskin, Elizabeth Anson.

Running time: 1 hour, 41 minutes.

Times-rated: Mature.

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