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:: Fire In Babylon

Fire in Babylon is not like most cricket documentaries. It is a film not for cricket fans, but for fans of documentaries, a stylish cinematic good story with lots of action sequences. It is really an attempt at cricket’s own When We Were Kings, a story about sport and politics with a kicking soundtrack.

Steven Riley does a good job of mixing the two up. Australian cricket crowds racially taunted the West Indies; the English media turned them into typecast thugs; and the Indians gave up a test match against them so they won’t get hurt. Australia was just becoming a multicultural country, England was struggling with race at home and here were these Nubian gods crushing every cricket team in the world. It was bound to upset a few people. On top of that was Apartheid: several of the Windies players defected to play a rebel tour in South Africa, causing much disgust for them back home.

Riley lets the players and a few key Caribbean celebrities tell the story. They focus on the 1975 to 1984 period when Clive Lloyd took a bunch of young cricketers and turned them into the single most destructive weapon in cricket history. To the players this was way more than cricket: it was a statement about being black, about giving their countries (the West Indies only exists as a cricket team) pride and proving that they weren’t the calypso good time boys as which they were often painted. All of this is interspersed with shot after shot of batsmen getting hit, mostly to a dub or reggae tune. Jaws are broken, hands are shaking and bruises are shown. This gives the documentary a lovely bite to it.

Where the film fails, and it doesn’t very often, is in the treatment of the cricket. Riley is a skilled director, but he is not a cricket tragic, and that means some mistakes. Cricket experts will notice that the climax of the film, the 1984 series against the English, involved a pretty poor English line up and that Riley includes a shot of Alan Knott even though he didn’t play.

Fire In Babylon is an emotional film, one for lovers of good documentaries, not just cricket fans. It may not be the most accurate cricket documentary I have ever seen – but it is probably the most fun and easily the most stylishly directed. Will we ever see the West Indies reach those levels again? I doubt it.

DVD Extras

Interviews with David Gower, Geoffrey Boycott, Allan Lamb and more
How the West Indies changed cricket forever
The next generation: Curtley Ambrose and Richie Richardson
Viv Richards vs Dennis Lillee
Playing against Racism