Rugby Movies

by Wes "Brigham" Clark

The Internet is a wonderful thing. With just a few clicks of the mouse, from home, you can now access all sorts of information. While still more useful for pop culture types of information rather than information in detail - you must still rely on a library for that - the technology has revolutionized the way we gain facts and knowledge.

The Internet Movie Database is a resource I find myself using all the time, and one uneventful afternoon, while wondering what else I could add to this web site, it occurred to me that I didn't know what, if any, movies on the subject of rugby were available. Sure, the silver screen is lousy with films about basketball, baseball and football, but where are the rugby films? A quick search on the IMDB listed these, a few of which have I seen. You can go to the IMDB entry by clicking on the movie title.

Alive (1993): Of course. Probably the rugby-related movie everyone thinks about. So well-covered I've given it its own section on this site! Nando Parrado, a member of the original Uruguayan team, stated in an interview, "If we had been soccer players, we would have died." Later in the interview, this, "...he (Parrado) and the other surviving rugby players have nothing but praise for Marshall's movie: 'He went to the mountain with us, he lived with us, and he treated the story very, very accurately. We wouldn't change a thing.'" I've seen it; it's a good film. I found the crash landing sequence to be much more unsettling than the brief scenes of people eating human meat. (I'm sure I'll think of this film whenever I board a plane.) One wouldn't assume a film that has cannibalism as one of its themes would be something Disney (Touchstone) would do, but there it is...

This Sporting Life (1963): Starring Richard Harris, who played King Arthur in Camelot and had a 1968 hit with "McArthur's Park" (you know, the song about the hazards of leaving cake out in the rain). The plot is as follows: "In Northern England in the early 1960s, Frank Machin is mean, tough and ambitious enough to become an immediate star in the rugby league team run by local employer Weaver. Machin lodges with Mrs Hammond, whose husband was killed in an accident at Weaver's, but his impulsive and angry nature stop him from being able to reach her as he would like. He becomes increasingly frustrated with his situation, and this is not helped by the more straightforward enticements of Mrs Weaver." [Some additional trivia from Richard Lowther of Wakefield RFC: "This movie was filmed in Wakefield at the rugby league ground of Wakefield Trinity, now known as the home of the Wakefield Trinity Wildcats. The trouble with being a Wakefield RFC (rugby union) supporter is that most people have only heard of the rugby league club and therefore think that we support them. This is sacrilegious."]

This film is difficult to watch. It's bleak, and Harris portrays a violent, inarticulate brute. There are a lot of scenes of Harris slugging rugby players, Mrs. Hammond, doors, tables, walls, etc. Come to think of it, I know a couple of ruggers who are something like this character... perhaps you do, too. The rugby footage is great, but there's only about fifteen minutes of it out of the 130 minutes or so of the film. It's not really a film about rugby - it's a film about pain, both emotional and physical. (Machin has six teeth knocked out of his mouth in the first few minutes of the film - if you fear dentistry you might fidget a little.) For some reason I found the scene where Harris makes an ass out of himself at the posh restaurant especially hard to watch. I must be well-trained by my wife, I guess.

Old Scores (1991): A rugby comedy from New Zealand. No plot is given and I don't recognize the names of any of the actors, so I can't write anything witty about it.

William Webb Ellis Are You Mad? (1971): No plot is given. I like the title, however!

Asini (1999): An Italian comedy. I can't read Italian, but looking at the plot description someone wrote, it takes place in Milan, there's a "Fanatico del rugby" and something about a dog-sitter. There you have it.

Exiles (1999): Described as a Canadian "rock and roll rugby road trip comedy." I have no doubt some of you have been on one of these. The names of one of the characters is "Pee-On," another, "Ken Doll."

Up 'n' Under (1998): A British comedy, with a plot synopsis as follows: "The Cobblers Arms have been the best and most feared Amateur Rugby League team for the past ten years. Ex-pro Arthur bets their boss that he could train a bunch of deadbeats to defeat them in a local rugby sevens tournament. But to do so he must first get them into shape with the help of the very attractive Hazel Scott." One reviewer wrote that this was "The blokes' version of The Full Monty," so it sounds promising. ["I found 'Up and Under' very funny... appreciating the rugby humour far more than my friend who finds sport totally unwatchable and spent all the time totally bored. As a former player (and soccer manager) I thought the training and organising scenes were riotous... been there done that! There are some nice one-liners in there... non of which I can now remember, but if you haven't seen it I recommend it." - Richard Lowther]

Dalziel and Pascoe: A Clubbable Woman (1996): This one sounds like it might be about spouse abuse, but it isn't. Here's the plot: "Two unorthodox police officers are called to investigate dodgy dealings at Wetherton rugby club after the body of their star player's wife is found dead at home." Wait a minute, maybe it is about spouse abuse! ["'Dalziel and Pascoe: A Clubbable Woman' is part of a BBC detective series. Dalziel is pronounced "Dee Hell," not as it's spelt. Dalziel is a gruff Yorkshireman (aren't we all?) and a policeman whilst Pascoe is the university-educated assistant who despairs of his boss in every imaginable way. The series is very enjoyable... this particular episode really revolved around the social/political running of a rugby club rather the playing side, and from memory (although it has been a long time since I saw it), you don't actually get to see any rugby footage." - Richard Lowther]

Ymadawiad Arthur (1994): This one's a sci-fi comedy with a rather odd plot: "In the year 2096, Welshmen lay a plan to kidnap national hero King Arthur from the medieval era, and bring him to the present. By mistake, however, they kidnap rugby hero Dai Arthur (nicknamed "King Arthur") from the 1960s instead." Apparently this one's in Welsh! (I couldn't begin to pronounce the title.)

Good try, though, but I think the Welsh are having more success with New Zealander Graham Henry than they would with the Once and Future King...

Puddle Cruiser (1996): "A student falls in love with a fellow student who defends him in university court. He proves his love to her by playing rugby with her ex-boyfriend." What? One on one?

Footrot Flats: The Dog's Tale (1986): Here's the plot: "Featuring the characters from Murray Ball's "Footrot Flats", (New Zealand's most beloved local cartoon strip). Questions to be answered include: Will Wal Footrot win the affections of Cheeky Hobson over the sleazy Spic Murphy? Will the Dog win the affections of the lovely Jess? Will Wal make a good impression on the All Black selectors at Saturday's rugby match? Can Rangi and Pongo save Wal's prize stag from the depths of Blackwater station, home of the Murphy's, their vicious dogs and deadly croco-pigs? All this and more will be answered as the small town of Raupo comes to life on the big screen."

Deadly "croco-pigs?"

Gallipoli (1981): There's a brief sequence of some boys from Victoria playing the boys from Western Australia under the gaze of the Sphinx!

I Could Go On Singing (1963): Judy Garland's last film. In it her son is shown playing some muddy U-14 schoolboy rugby. The sequence only lasts five minutes or so.

The Commitments (1991) - Okay, I admit: there isn't a rugby ball or a rugby player in it, but it's still a rugby film. See it and see if you don't agree. (That drummer reminds me of ruggers I know.)

Guest film critic John "Montana" Thomas, the owner/operator of PropTalk, has contributed the following (my comments in brackets):

Tommy Boy (1995) - Beginning while at college, he is wearing a rugby jacket. [This film stars Chris Farley and David Spade. Chris Farley did in fact play rugby for Marquette. Check out my famous ruggers page for details.]

The Man Without a Face (1993) - When the boy leaves burnt face Mel Gibson and goes off to private school...he plays rugby.

Guest film critic Pete Murray of the Western Suburbs RFC has this:

Circle of Friends (1995) - From a Maeve Binchy book about three female Irish university students who were reunited at university in the 1950s. The story line follows a girl (Minnie Driver, who had to gain 30 or so pounds for the role) who lives in a village and commutes to university (in Dublin) via public transportation, and her trials and tribulations of dating the captain and fly half (Chris O'Donnell) of the rugby club. There are two scenes involving rugby, the first (which I missed because I was buying popcorn and soda) was about a 30 second bit of action and the second was of a social held by the club where in many pints of Guinness are consumed and rugby songs are sung.

Pacific Heights (1990) - There is a quick scene where Matthew Modine runs up the stairs in the pouring rain to greet a couple who is looking at his apartment. He is in his kit and carrying his boots. I believe he is wearing a number 12 jersey which would indicate him being an inside center. Poor choice, I would have him in a number 10.

Also, The Molly Maguires (1970) - An excellent film about the group of the same name in Northeast Pennsylvania. Although the storyline follows Richard Harris in his role as a Pinkerton (successfully) attempting to infiltrate the Maguires who were headed up by "Black Jack" Kehoe (played by Sean Connery.) Harris is torn between what he comes to believe as a righteous cause and his job. But getting to the point (rugby) there is a scene where the guys from the coal mine in the town play the next town/coal mine/company over in a hybrid game of rugby union, Gaelic football, and gridiron. There are some awesome shots of a scrum down where Connery is working his counterpart over with a little bit of the business. At the end of the match there is an obligatory drink-up. [Based upon Pete's recommendation - and the fact that I like Sean Connery - I rented this film. It may be worth noting that it takes place in 1876, and the football game the miners play is with a round ball. But it's passed by hand like rugby, and there's a shot of what looks like a hooker kicking the ball backwards out of the scrum. The "business" Pete refers to is punching with the fist. During the match a Welsh policeman looks on disapprovingly. That doesn't seem right, does it? - Wes]

Another guest film critic, this time Paul Bothwell, from Wales, has this:

A Run for Your Money (1949) - Twm and Dai Jones, two Welsh coal-mining brothers from South Wales, win a coal-cutting competition and take a trip to London to see the England-Wales Rugby match, They are supposed to meet a newspaper reporter, Mr. Whimple of the Weekly Echo, played by Alec Guiness, who will be their escort but end up missing connections with their reception committee. In the big city, innocent Dai soon finds himself accompanied by Jo, an attractive con-woman; while Twm meets a Welsh harpist who leads him through many pubs, and Mr. Whimple is led a merry chase, what a job it turns out to be! [According to the Britmovie review, this is one of those Ealing comedies: "The theme was that of innocents abroad, the victims of female confidence tricksters and sponging drunks, with occasional bouts of Welsh male voice singing." - Wes]


Grand Slam (1976) - It's worth seeing. It's about some Welsh rugby fans (is this redundant?) in France on the occasion of a France vs. Wales game. The main ingredients of this one are drunkenness, sex, a brothel brawl, incarceration, dialects that are occasionally difficult for Yanks to understand, lots of smoking and Hugh Griffith's enormous eyebrows.

More of Brigham's rants and verbal abuse can be found on his rugby web site, "the Rugby Reader's Review." You may contact him at