Borg vs McEnroe

Tennis biopic; game, set, match!

Trending Now

Tim Buckley’s Starsailor: “It was just so good in the studio”

Bandmates recount the making of his mercurial masterpiece

The 8th Uncut New Music Playlist Of 2020

It's Friday afternoon, so it's time for another of our rarer-than-intended rundowns of the finest new music that's appeared...

Michael Stipe: “I don’t have to please anyone but myself”

In Uncut's exclusive interview, he discusses new solo material and REM's legacy

The on-court Sturm und Drang of Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe has already been the subject of one HBO documentary. Now, Danish director Janus Metz has assembled a staunch biopic about the two Wimbledon champions that owes a debt to Rush, a film that dramatised another real-life international sporting rivalry, between James Hunt and Niki Lauda. The focus is build up to the 1980 Wimbledon final – between “the baseline player and the net rusher” – when a television audience of 17.3 million viewers watched Borg chase his fifth straight title on Centre Court.

Newcomer Sverrir Gudnason plays the Swede as a stoic, dedicated athlete who is uncomfortable being recognised walking down the street. Shia LaBoeuf, meanwhile, is the temperamental McEnroe. The narrative leans heavily on their contrasting dispositions – scenes of McEnroe partying are cut against Borg in his hotel room, diligently measuring his pulse rate. The further McEnroe progresses through the tournament, the more enraged he becomes by the media focus on his behaviour, while Borg increasingly shuts himself down, wrestling to keep an unspoken anxiety in check. “Can’t you just talk about the tennis?” Says an exasperated MacEnroe; can’t Borg just talk at all?

Advertisement

Sports commentators act as a kind of Greek chorus, filling in exposition as required (“McEnroe is the bigger talent, but playing Borg is like being hit by a sledgehammer”), allowing Gudnason and LaBoeuf to get on with more actorly work. Gudnason is good as the enigmatic Bjorg, eventually making an introverted, enigmatic character likeable. LaBoeuf has been enjoyably unhinged in films lately – American Honey – and he chews his way greedily through McEnroe, savouring every unpredictable tic, cuss and hissy fit.

Follow me on Twitter @MichaelBonner

The November 2017 issue of Uncut is now on sale in the UK – featuring The Beatles on the cover. Elsewhere in the issue, there are new interviews with Beck, Michael Head, The Jacksons, Neil Finn and we celebrate the legacy of Woody Guthrie and remember Walter Becker. We review David Bowie, The Smiths, Margo Price, Robert Plant and Kurt Vile and Courtney Barnett. Our free CD features 15 tracks of the month’s best music, including Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile, Gregg Allman, Margo Price, The Weather Station and more.

Advertisement
Advertisement

Latest Issue

Peter Gabriel, Michael Stipe, The Flaming Lips, Tim Buckley, David Bowie, Archie Shepp, Jonathan Richman, Mary Chapin Carpenter and The Rolling Stones
Advertisement

Features

Advertisement