By Will Barber Taylor
Award-winning BBC adaptation based on the bestselling autobiography by John Healy
John Healy’s powerful true story of his life and addiction became a bestselling autobiography. It was adapted in 1992 by the BBC into an award-winning Screen Two film.
Born in London to poor Irish parents, brutalised at home and hardened on the streets by the age of 7, John Healy is consumed by alcoholism as a teenager. A promising career as a boxer is destroyed by drink as he enters The Grass Arena, a savage community of vagrant alcoholics, ruled by psychopaths and peopled by beggars – who will do anything to quench their thirst. They have nothing to lose. Ending up in prison, he faces a certain death until a fellow inmate shows him how to play chess, for which he displays a natural instinct. One addiction is about to replace another.
Winner of the Michael Powell Award for Best Feature Film and the Grand Prix at the Dinard Film Festival in France. Starring, Mark Rylance, Pete Postlethwaite & Clive Russell.
The Grass Arena, like many of Screen Two’s excellent series of product has been grossly overlooked by audiences since its broadcast in 1992. Now, thanks to Simply Media, we can all enjoy this engaging and thought-provoking drama that is sadly neglected and deserves far more attention than it has previously received.
A brutal and daring piece of work, The Grass Arena highlights the sheer horror and deprivation of the poverty that some children experienced in post war Britain. This adaptation brings the full power of the poverty Healy suffered frankly to life. The direction and cinematography by Gillies MacKinnon is stunningly well done and credit must be given to MacKinnon for so effortlessly bringing Frank Deasy’s adaptation of Healy’s biography to life. The combination of Deasy’s evocative script with MacKinnon’s gritty and realistic direction truly makes the audience feel like they are there, seeing Healy trying to find some purpose to his life in the otherwise tragic situation he finds himself in.
The acting is stunning with the young Mark Rylance bringing a great deal of energy and realism to the role. Rylance’s inflections and ability to emote the powerful and mixed feelings that Healy was experiencing at the time represent a masterclass in performance. This is self-evident during Rylance’s scenes with Pete Postlethwaite’s, The Dipper. Postlethwaite’s and Rylance’s performances are exceptional and their ability to work so well together on screen is a testament to the extraordinary skill of both.
The Grass Arena is a troubling, complex and extraordinary story of poverty, redemption and survival. It is the sort of production more TV stations should be producing today and I for one am glad that we have been given the opportunity to see this extraordinary work in its full glory once again.
You can purchase The Grass Arena from Amazon here.