Complete A-Z list



Stars: Stephan James, Jason Sudeikis, Jeremy Irons, Shanice Banton, William Hurt, David Kross, Barnaby Metschurat, Carice van Houten, Eli Goree, Shamier Anderson

Director: Stephen Hopkins

A cosily conventional sports biopic, concentrating on the little-told story of Jesse Owens (James), an African-American athlete who proves the USA's hero at the infamous Berlin Olympics of 1936, which Hitler has dedicated to the glorification of 'pure' Aryan athletes (the title, of course, is a double-edged sword).

Under Ohio state coach Larry Snyder - a gift role for comedian Jason Sudeikis, who grabs it eagerly - Jesse soon emerges as an outstanding sprinter and long jumper. Desoite personal problems - apart from jibes from his white fellow-competitors, he has a three-year-old daughter from a girlfriend, Ruth (Banton) he has yet to marry - he is soon tagged as an Olympic hopeful.

But stormclouds are gathering across Europe, and there are doubts whether America can compete in the face of the Nazi party's atrocities towards Jewish and other minorities.

Even after the Olympic Committee, headed by Avery Brundage (Irons), narrowly votes to go to Berlin, Jesse soon comes under pressure from the National Committee for the Advancement of Coloured People to pull out.

Jesse's consequent wavering, in fact, takes up rather too much of the plot, even though the movie would be pointless if we didn't know he competed with distinction. Otherwise, the film mostly hits its marks with commendable professionalism: nothing particularly nasty is shown in Germany, though it's certainly implied, and the friendship between Jesse and the German ace long-jumper (Kross) who helps him avoid disqualification is a nice part of the picture.

Brundage's order to Jewish athletes not to run in a relay, after he is blackmailed by Goebbels (Metschurat) over a German embassy building contract, is brought to the fore, and only the occasional line jars, as when Jesse's girl tells him" 'Don't think so much, Jesse, that's not what you're good at.' That's not what we want to hear about our crisis-battling hero to whom the film mainly does more than justice.

There are one or two gaffes in historical fact, though, notably the assertion that America's Charley Piddock won Olympic sprinting gold in 1924. It was in fact in 1920.

David Quinlan

Canada/Germany 2016. UK Distributor: Altitude . Colour (unspecified).
134 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: PG.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 0, Violence/Horror 0, Drugs 0, Swearing 0.

Review date: 01 Jun 2016