5 Must-Watch Sports Documentaries of James Erskine, the Director of Sachin: A Billion Dreams
James Erskine is the man of the hour. He is helming a film that is eagerly awaited by a country of a billion people, and perhaps, in every country that’s a part of the global cricketing community. The reason? Erskine’s film recounts the story of one of the greatest sporting icons the world has ever seen – a man whose rise from a child prodigy to a legendary cricketer is the stuff fairy-tales are made of. For the entirety of the two-and-a-half decades he played for India, Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar was a symbol of hope, beacon of joy and source of pride to three generations of his countrymen, and influenced the collective consciousness of the nation to an extent few men in sporting history have managed to – a feat that sets him apart from the other sporting heroes from all eras. Chronicling his life’s journey, therefore, is a task that’s at once daunting and exciting; something that’s at once a great opportunity and an enormous responsibility. And if what we have seen so far of Sachin: A Billion Dreams is anything to go by, Erskine has lived up to the expectations, much like the man at the centre of his magnum opus did throughout his career.
Many of you are perhaps oblivious of who James Erskine is and what his repertoire encompasses. Well, for starters, he is no stranger to the art of documentary filmmaking and has received critical praise for many of his past works. He also has a handful of feature films and television shows to his credit. But the Emmy-nominated director is perhaps best known for his association with a number of acclaimed sports documentaries, five of which we will be discussing here. Whether it be football, rugby, tennis, cricket or cycling, the versatile writer-director is at ease retelling interesting stories from the annals of any sport with panache. And that’s the reason why believe he is the right man for the demanding job of narrating the rise and rise of Sachin Tendulkar. Without much ado, here is a comprehensive list of some of the most riveting moments from sports history, as told by James Erskine.
1. One Night in Turin (2010)
Based on Pete Davies’ book All Played Out and narrated by Gary Oldman, One Night in Turin retold the rise of English football from the ruins of its turbulent past, thanks to a stellar performance in the 1990 FIFA World Cup. Erskine evocatively captured the story of the English football team’s redemption and the eventual heartbreak, when they lost to West Germany in the shoot-outs after an evenly contested semi-final match. The combination of archive footage featuring some of the iconic moments from the team’s Italia ‘90 journey and Gary Oldman’s flawless narration make the documentary a must-watch.
2. From the Ashes (2011)
Often dubbed as Botham’s Ashes, the 1981 Ashes series is undoubtedly the greatest ever comeback story in the history of English cricket. On the streets, the race riots were ravaging England and on the field, their cricket team was trailing 1-0 at the end of the first two tests against arch rivals Australia. What follows is one of the most dramatic turnarounds in the history of the game, with the English winning the six-test series, 3 to 1. Narrated by Tom Hardy and brilliantly directed by Erskine, From the Ashes received universal critical acclaim, with David Edwards of Daily Mirror praising the documentary as “beautifully filmed and terribly funny, it’s a hoot from start to finish.”
From the Ashes currently holds a 100% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and if you’re a fan of cricket, this is a documentary you shouldn’t miss!
3. The Battle of the Sexes (2013)
The match between Bobby Riggs and Billie Jean King remains one of the most famous tennis events of all time, owing to the gender politics debates it spurred. In The Battle of the Sexes, Erskine analyses the events that led up to the eponymous 1973 tennis match and its lasting legacy – of how King’s victory over Riggs was a strong statement against sexism and a victory for women’s empowerment. The documentary currently holds an 89% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with critics hailing it as “a smart, gripping and enormously enjoyable parable.”
4. Pantani: The Accidental Death of a Cyclist (2014)
The rise and fall of the great Italian cyclist Marco Pantani is a tale that’s at once inspirational and cautionary. In The Accidental Death of a Cyclist, Erskine follows Pantani’s journey from winning two prestigious cycling tours in 1998 to dying alone in an obscure hotel room (in 2004), from acute cocaine poisoning. Though some critics were displeased with Erskine’s decision to focus solely on Pantani’s achievements and reduce the darker side of doping allegations to a footnote, the documentary was generally well-received and currently holds an 81% approval rating on the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes.
5. Building Jerusalem (2015)
Among the evergreen memories cherished by English rugby fans is the stunning drop goal by Jonny Wilkinson in the 2003 Rugby World Cup Final, which helped England edge past Australia in a fiercely contested showdown. Erskine circles back to exploring yet another remarkable triumph in English sporting history with Building Jerusalem – a documentary which revolves around the country’s maiden Rugby World Cup title victory in ‘03. The writer-director creates a compelling narrative with some smart writing, footage from the memorable final match and exclusive interviews with rugby stars like Martin Johnson, Jonny Wilkinson and Matt Dawson. If you’re looking for a place to start in getting to know the game of rugby, Building Jerusalem is an excellent introductory course.
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