Sunday, July 22, 2012

The First London Games: Going for Gold

Seventy-three year-old British artist John Copley became the oldest Olympic medalist at the 1948 London Games, taking silver for his etchings.  It would be the penultimate artistic competition of the modern-era games, all of which have since been segregated from the official medal counts.  He might have made history (for a while, at least), but fortunately this will not be his story.  Instead, BBC America takes viewers to the Thames, where a hastily assembled British sculling duo carries the hopes of their nation in Going for Gold: The ’48 Games (promo here), a one-shot airing this Wednesday as part of the current season of Dramaville.

Bert Bushnell and Dickie Burnell both competed for a spot on the 1948 Olympic team, but fell short.  Pairing-up was not their fallback plan, but the brainchild of five-time British medalist and Olympic committeeman Jack Beresford.  The double sculls is an event close to his heart, since he and his partner upset the favored Germans in front of Hitler at the 1936 Berlin Games.

The stakes are not quite so high for Bushnell and Burnell, but the malaise ridden United Kingdom could use a lift.  London could also use the tourist dollars generated by a successful Olympiad.  However, with mere weeks to go, they still woefully behind on construction.  Evidently, its déjà vu all over again.

Likewise, Bushnell and Burnell have just started training together and it shows.  Socially and temperamentally quite different, the pair clash rather badly.  In fact, the respectably middle class Bushnell’s class resentment of Burnell’s privileged background becomes tiresomely repetitive, perhaps saying more about screenwriter William Ivory (whose credits include the labor drama Made In Dagenham) than two athletes who fundamentally share so much in common.  They both have a passion for their sport, similar last names, and persistent issues with their fathers.

For many viewers (as well as BBC America) the most important thing to know about Gold is the presence of Doctor Who’s Matt Smith as Bushnell.  He is credible enough as the tightly wound rower, but Sam Hoare certainly looks more athletic as Burnell.  He also has some of the better turned straight dramatic scenes.  However, for longtime TV anglophiles, it will be Geoffrey “As Time Goes By” Palmer who stands out as Burnell’s severely reserved father.

If rowing races is your thing, Going for the Gold (a.k.a. Bert & Dickie) is your tele-drama.  Smoothly helmed by TV veteran David Blair, it still is hardly Chariots of Fire-on-the-Thames (notwithstanding one eyebrow raising quote), but it is about on par with most subsequent Summer Olympic movies.  An appealing period production with a decent payoff, Going for Gold is a pleasant enough warm-up for the London Games, recommended for sculling and Olympic enthusiasts when it airs this Wednesday night (7/25) on BBC America’s Dramaville showcase.