The Grand Seduction – a review

On set with the "team"

Dave Liverman – exclusive to
Last night I had the pleasure of viewing “The Grand Seduction” at its Newfoundland premiere at a sold-out Arts and Culture Centre in St. John’s. In brief- great film, good acting, lots of laughs – and a bit of cricket thrown in…
A couple of things to get out of the way first- this is a film in which cricket features but it is by no means a cricket film; and in the interests of full disclosure I spent four days on set, and provided other advice to help ensure that the cricket related scenes and dialogue rang true to cricket fans.

The film, directed by Don McKellar, and starring Brendon Gleeson (In Bruges, the Harry Potter films), Taylor Kitsch (Friday Night Lights, John Carter) and Newfoundlanders Gordon Pinsent and Mark Critch, is a re-make of the successful French-Canadian film “La Grande Seduction” and was filmed in Newfoundland. It is a gentle comedy and the plot revolves around a small fishing community’s efforts at two seductions. Tickle Harbout has no jobs since the collapse of the fishery and is trying to convince an oil company to set up a factory in their village. The company requires the community to have a full time doctor in residence, so they connive to create an environment that will entice a doctor who is there for a month to stay full time.
This is where the cricket comes in – their research on the new doctor tells them that he is a big cricket fan, and so before he arrives, the villagers try to teach themselves cricket from the internet in order to convince him that cricket is the number one sport in Tickle Harbour. Their efforts extend further than just cricket of course, but the scenes of the arrival of the doctor into the community by boat with the local’s cricket game being played on the cliff-top “pitch” are the lynch pin of the film.

Pads constructed from rope - props

The cricket scenes are brief and occur early in the film – trying to make cricket equipment and clothing, constructing a pitch on the cliff-top, practice, and the “game” itself, plus a scene later in the film where the doctor (Taylor Kitsch) is watching a match on TV in the bar. From working with Don McKellar and the team, there was significant effort to ensure that the details worked from a cricket point of view. The local interpretation of cricket of course should not be true to the game, otherwise the plot doesn’t work! (It raises the question my father liked to pose – if you gave the laws of cricket to a group of people who had never heard or seen the game, what would be the cricket game they created look like..) However it is important that the doctor’s dialogue makes sense from a cricket point of view, and I believe in this case it does (this was not the case with the French version).
It is interesting that cricket in the context of the film represents an alien big-city culture, associated with drugs and a superficial lifestyle, whereas the conventional literary view of English cricket in particular is rural- the village green, tea and cucumber sandwiches and so on,
In the French version, the doctor’s character is clearly identified as English, but here Taylor Kitsch makes no attempt at any accent other than his own. We therefore have to assume that the doctor is Canadian but only is interested in cricket to the exclusion of hockey. To a Canadian cricket fan this seems somewhat odd – there are of course Canadian cricketers who are not recent immigrants but the ones I’ve met integrate cricket into their overall view of Canadian sporting culture.
The plot itself perhaps is not totally believable but the film is a resounding success. The acting is almost uniformly excellent. Brendon Gleeson is entirely convincing as a Newfoundlander – no accent problems there – and manages to handle both comedy and the more serious moments perfectly. Taylor Kitsch perhaps has a difficult task as the big city doctor as a target for seduction but for the most part handles it well. The Newfoundland actors are superb, led by Mark Critch’s brilliant portrayal of the bank manager but supported beautifully by Gordon Pinset, Mary Walsh and Cathy Jones – in a minor but perfectly acted role as Brendan Gleeson’s wife.
The film looks great – a combination of the lovely scenery of the Bonavista Peninsula, and the camera work, lighting and direction.
The acid test of a comedy of course is whether it is funny- and it definitely is- there were lots of laughs in the theatre, sometimes so loud and protracted that some even funnier lines were drowned out. The comedy is by no means slapstick, and the best moments are subtle.
Will this film raise the profile of cricket in Canada (and Newfoundland in particular? Probably not – although the very presence of cricket in a Canadian film is a step forward, the way cricket is portrayed is not likely to help. Cricket is alive and well in Canada – and in Newfoundland, but bears little resemblance to the game portrayed in the film. Interestingly the small museum in Trinity, the largest community in the area the film was made, contains a photo of the Trinity cricket team in the 1890s, and a couple of ancient cricket bats.
What the film will do though is to show that a relatively small budget Canadian film can rival Hollywood in quality of production, and surpass it in many ways in quality of entertainment, without resorted to special effects, fancy sets or gross humour. It is a good and funny story, well told, and set in the most lovely scenery imaginable. Go see it (but not for the cricket!).

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