Postman Eric Bishop (Evets) unravels when circumstances force him to make contact with the wife (Bishop) he left 30 years before. He takes solace in the unexpected form of legendary footballer Eric Cantona, who mysteriously appears to offer advice...
If you are 12, or drunk, or have a Michael Caine fixation, Escape To Victory is a good film. It’s got Pelé in it. And Bobby Moore. And Rocky in goal. And only one tiny — microscopic, really — flaw: it’s rubbish. Football can’t be contained by film: it’s about magic and moments, those vital instants that make you forget everything and everyone — and all the pain, fear and confusion — and focus on the game. It’s only a game, football-haters haughtily insist. We know it’s only a game. That’s why we love it. We know it does not matter. That’s why we love it. We know it’s 90 minutes of 22 men kicking a leather orb around. THAT’S WHY WE LOVE IT. Football is a divine distraction — like, at its best, church or cinema. And King Eric, as the Old Trafford faithful still call him, is a footballing god: an idol to millions, mysterious and unknowable and sometimes bewildering (“When the seagulls follow the trawler, it’s because they think sardines will be thrown into the sea”). And here he is, playing himself, in a comedy directed by leftie legend Ken Loach. Bloody football, as Sir Alex Ferguson might say.
Looking For Eric, then, is a surprise. It’s not that Loach-lovers don’t know of his affection for football, but no-one could have predicted this pairing — nor how funny and affecting the final film would be. Since trading soccer for the silver screen, Cantona hasn’t disgraced himself, but nor has he escaped his on-field success. He never will, really. But while many ex-players resent their past peak, here he embraces his cult and has fun with it — Cantona, it seems, is a man at peace with himself. And he has a sense of humour, allowing Evets to improv abuse about his philosophical leanings (that cryptic sardines comment comes in for a grilling) and fondly mocking his own transcendent status (“I am not a man... I am Cantona”).
So, King Eric reigns on screen, too, then — but what makes Looking For Eric so special, what makes it, perhaps, the best film about football there’s ever been, is that it doesn’t try to fictionalise on-pitch glories; it is instead about how we feel about the beautiful game. The only football is real clips of Cantona in action, and while these will trigger tingles in anyone who has screamed in joy or despair at football, they don’t confine the film to only footy fans. Because Cantona here represents something beyond himself — he represents hope. And everyone, you hope, has clung to something beyond themselves to get them through troubled times. Looking For Eric, yes, is about Cantona in part, but it’s also about Eric Bishop, a beaten-down bloke trying to find salvation — a man drowning, not waving, in a sea of regrets. Evets is magnificent — face punctured by pain, but still raising grins through a grimace — and his friendship with fellow postman Meatballs (Henshaw) is as involving, in its way, as his attempts to rekindle a relationship with his long-neglected ex-wife (Bishop). Looking For Eric is, in its Loachian way, a romantic comedy, but it’s really about all kinds of love. As Cantona says, “You have to trust your teammates. Always. Otherwise, you are lost.”
Play It Again, Eric... Ken Loach perfectly captures the feeling of football and the need for hope. Touching and hilarious a blinder.