Joseph Fiennes Scores a Winner for Dear England

Sport and Stage make uneasy bed fellows, generally requiring two members of any self-respecting pub quiz team. Attempts to dramatize the former, in particular football, have generally fallen short of their goal. It would be tempting to explain away the near universal praise of Dear England to a lowering of the bar, and a few brave souls have said as much, but sometimes the majority have got it right all along. Simply put, Dear England is utterly enthralling from the very start, in a way that transcends whatever interest you might have in football, delivering a hugely satisfying narrative that could have only worked on the stage.

Joseph Fiennes’s has been rightly praised for his outstanding portrayal of Gareth Southgate – such is the brilliance with which he captures Southgate’s mannerisms and timbre that it is easy to forget it’s not the man himself. There are some lovely performances on the side lines, too. Adam Hugill is spot on as Harry Maguire, while Adam Hugill gets the biggest laughs as Will Close, before neatly rebuking the audience for mocking him. None of which would be have been possible without James Graham’s witty, razor-sharp script. Self-doubt, toxic masculinity, class, misogyny and racism are all tackled with a lightness of touch that nevertheless hits home, in a play packed with ideas and imbued with humanity.

It’s also about football, of course, and the punctuation of the World and Euro Cups are imaginatively staged, but the beautiful game is only a small part of the play that is as much about confronting fear as it is kicking a ball. Ironically, those in the audience less engaged with the sport can even enjoy the thrill of not knowing what happens next. For all the inherent drama and conflict of sport, Dear England is a joyous celebration of a quietly heroic, decent man, that taught his players, and his country, how to play with joy and lose with dignity.