With the 2015 Rugby World Cup looming like a hulking second row, this new doc should inspire fans, players and patriots alike. Building Jerusalem is a thoughtful, heart-pounding film about the time when, 12 years ago, Jonny Wilkinson kicked England to last-gasp glory.
As tends to happen with folkloric British sporting moments, the names of the heroes become household ones pretty much instantly. Sir Clive Woodward, the methodical coach, Matt Dawson (whose turkey korma recipe from Celebrity Masterchef I use every Boxing Day), Martin Johnson, Lawrence Dallaglio and of course Jonny Wilkinson.
These are the stars of this show, put together by sports doc supremo James Erskine, a film maker who understands both the mentality and the physicality that makes sporting moments so inherently cinematic.
This film pieces together history and culture so we get into the minds of these players as their day of destiny approaches. The interviews are candid, funny and intense, taking us from the days of rugby amateurism, through the global significance of South Africa’s 1995 triumph on home soil in front of a free Nelson Mandela, to the new world of British professionalism.
Jonny Wilkinson is particularly fascinating to watch. He shows us his childhood diaries, in which, as an 8 year old, he wrote how he wanted to kick the winning goal for England at the rugby World Cup.
His obsessive nature shines through, his dedication and unceasing practise all leading up to that one golden, career and life-making moment. It’s a great bit of cinema, a character arc if you like, as perfect as the arc that rugby ball will describe as it heads towards the goal posts.
There’s stuff here I never knew. How the England team trained with the Marines to make sure they could play exhausted. How Woodward introduced an eye coach to sharpen vision. How a player’s strike brought the team closer together.
Erskine tells the story with clarity and, given how we all know how it turned out, still recounts the journey through the World Cup with excitement and tension, focusing on an analysis from the players which is highly personal and revealing.
I’m not a rugby fan in particular, and the film caters for this by cementing the achievements culturally, recalling the political climate and the effects of little changes of fashion and attitude, even including the advent of cell phones: the England team were suddenly sponsored by mobile phone company Cellnet and Martin Johnson recalls his excitement at them all getting a few new phone – except that they didn’t know anyone else who had one they could call.
A fine sports movie about the psychology, mentality and muscle of a team, Building Jerusalem distils the essence of a great sporting moment. It builds to a brilliant assessment of that moment by Wilkinson himself, who takes us into the eye of the hurricane, when time seems to stand still and perfection is there. Such things are brief and rare, yet their impact can be everlasting and unforgettable, etched in our hearts and on our retinas for ever. Or, at least until the next time.
I will hosting a live QnA, satellite beamed to 150 cinemas around the UK, on Tuesday September 1 for Building Jerusalem, with Sir Clive Woodward, Matt Dawson, Jonny Wilkinson, Martin Johnson and director James Erskine. A scrum of legends, indeed…………to buy your ticket click here.