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    Twenty-Year Fever

    Posted by Mike Finnegan on

    In a introduction to his November 2015 Rolling Stone interview with Nick Hornby as the writer’s screenplay adaptation for the film Brooklyn would shortly go on to earn him nominations for Oscar® and BAFTA honors, David Ehrlich wrote: “Nick Hornby is not a casual person. One of the most popular writers to emerge from the U.K. in the Nineties, the author exploded onto the literary scene with tales of overgrown boys whose passions metastasize into lifestyles and prevent them from being functional adults. (You get the sense that Judd Apatow has read every word Hornby has ever written and taken copious notes.) Fever Pitch (1992) is a winsome, wince-inducing memoir about the author's obsessive fandom for the Arsenal football club; his first novel, High Fidelity (1995) follows a record-store owner whose greatest romance will always be with his vinyl. Hornby's heroes are so committed to certain parts of themselves that they can't fully commit to other people.” Both fondly embraced works were made into Americanized films – High Fidelity in 2000 with John Cusack and Jack Black, Fever Pitch in 2005 with Jimmy Fallon and Drew Barrymore (substituting Boston Red Sox baseball for Arsenal football) – and adapted by others. However, Hornby himself penned the screenplay of Fever Pitch (1997) for its first, home-turf British screen version that debuted in U.K. cinemas 20 years ago today, doing considerable heavy lifting to translate a deeply personal “Lad-lit” chronicle of the value of team-sports obsession in his life into a relatable story for wider moviegoer appeal beyond soccer addicts. So romance was added to the mixture, as the Hornby-based character of North London schoolteacher Paul Ashworth (Colin Firth) tentatively ventures into a relationship with a new colleague Sarah Hughes (Ruth Gemmell), and Ashworth’s dour and narrow world-view, fixated as it is on the eternally frustrating fortunes of his beleaguered team, must come to grips with being in love with someone for whom “it’s only a game.” With canny British television director David Evans (Whitechapel, Downton Abbey) at the helm, and supporting players like Mark Strong as Ashworth’s best Arsenal-ally bud, Holly Aird as Sarah’s cheeky flatmate and Stephen Rea as a flinty school bureaucrat, Fever Pitch crosses the goal line in effectively amusing style, just as real-life events brought Arsenal to a real-life, hard-fought, hair’s-breadth championship crown. The project instantly appealed to rising star Firth, whose emergence as a screen heartthrob courtesy of the 1995 BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice catapulted the actor to center stage, including a major role as the jealous husband in the 1996 nine-time Academy Award® winner The English Patient. His alternately loutish and poignant work definitely proved he wouldn’t be strait-jacketed into posh typecasting anytime soon. For more pros-and-cons analysis of Fever Pitch, find Adam Hurrey’s February 2017 The Set Pieces essay here: http://thesetpieces.com/features/football-film-fever-pitch-1997/. For the film itself, tee up Fever Pitch on Twilight Time hi-def Blu-ray, with Isolated Audio Track color commentators Julie Kirgo and Chelsea supporter Nick Redman on tap here: http://www.screenarchives.com/title_detail.cfm/ID/26732/FEVER-PITCH-1997/.