Bill Nighy in a scene from “The Beautiful Game” on Netflix. Netflix photo

Yes, “The Beautiful Game” really exists. I’ll explain shortly.

This film, written by Frank Cottrell Boyce (“The Railroad Man”) and directed by Thea Sharrock (“Wicked Little Letters”), rests largely on the gifts of Sharrock, who knew what she was doing when she heard about it, and knew in her heart that she had a charming story, nothing much more.

The story is based on an actual annual sporting event, The Homeless World Cup, which will take place in Seoul this year.

Homeless men and women, homeless for myriad reasons, bring their gifts to Rome and set about changing their lives and the lives of everyone it’s about.

First of all, the smartest thing Sharrock did was hire Bill Nighy, who plays Mal, a long-retired pro football (what we call soccer in the U.S.) manager with a mysteriously long, weathered old scorebook that holds a secret that involves ex-football star Vinny (Micheal Ward). A down-on-his-sneakers Vinny is reluctant to join the others, a sweet pack of one-time players who have fallen to the streets like all the players in this day in Rome.

Among others, there is Kevin (Tom Vaughan-Lawlor); recovering heroin user Nathan (Callum Scott Howells); and autistic, Kurdish barber Aldar (Robin Nazari).


Vinny, the starter, leaves behind in England a broken marriage and little daughter and follows a dream he has had since he was a boy.

Vinny is the real star of this pack of players. He sleeps in his car and, at this time, has no way to support his family. His “resurrection” is the foundation for Sharrock’s tale.

Sharrock wisely gives us Valeria Golino as Gabriella, the cheerleader and host of this fictional version of The Homeless World Cup. There are romances here, with USA’s Rosita (Cristina Rodlo) and England’s Jason (Sheyi Cole) briefly highlighted, but that soon hits the rocks, and is clumsily, cutely brought back to life in the gift of a frozen salmon (this is not “Casablanca”).

None of the flirtations hold one bucket of water. Every important, true note here is about the actual Homeless Games, a worldwide event that everyone but this reviewer knew about that are genuine, heart warming even.

Only the secret that Mal holds about Vinny (which is revealed by a worn childhood snapshot) is invented and truly holds weight.

If it matters, an earlier script featuring that “magic” coupling of Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson was almost made, but it didn’t come to life. Nighy and Ward were eventually confirmed.


The gift that Sharrock gives us, is the heartwarming truth of these games, and … Bill Nighy.

“The Beautiful Game” was released on Netflix on March 29.


J.P. Devine of Waterville is a former stage and screen actor.

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