The Rack Pack

Art & Culture

I was very worried when I heard about this film.  I absolutely love snooker, but that was the problem…… what if it was shit?  It would hurt.  And worse; what if it inaccurately told the story and led people who know nothing about snooker to profess to me hysterically about Alex Higgins being “The Greatest” and how Steve Davis did nothing more than spoil people’s fun.

I got this after the Senna film, and it still rankles.  Not only was I constantly reminded by people that Senna was THE greatest, it was as if Alain Prost (winner of four world championships) was the devil incarnate – devoid of any talent other than playing politics.  And don’t even get me started about the film’s “portrayal” of Nigel Mansell; one of the best natural racers there has ever been, and every bit as big a rival to Senna as Prost ever was.  No – it just wasn’t convenient for the film to talk about him.  Not enough time said the editor.

So I felt The Rack Pack was all set up for another sporting-history armageddon….. I was picturing the “errr no, ACTUALLY” arguments I was about to have….. but in fact; it turned out to be a bloody good watch.  Massive credit to all involved.  It was moving, it was lightly amusing, and it seemed broadly fair.  I wasn’t born when the film started, but from my own reading of snooker history, it seemed like a legitimate exaggeration of what actually happened.  There was a decent wedge of poetic license but not too much more, and in fact there was even a cameo appearance from real-life snooker referee Eirian Williams.  Bet he loved that.

I guess Steve Davis has slight reason to be aggrieved at his portrayal – I refuse to believe he was so inhuman – but let’s be honest, he’ll be used to it by now, and as the film correctly emphasises; it made sense for him and manager Barry Hearn to play to it in the first instance.  It was a terrific exercise in branding, and perhaps the film’s greatest achievement is to adequately demonstrate just how much Barry Hearn did for the game and just how much a young Steve Davis would do for Barry Hearn.  The Steve Davis you see on snooker coverage today is sharp and insightful; so he must have always had some of that in him, but the public didn’t notice much of this while he was winning, and a lot of that is down to what Barry Hearn sold the public.

Alex Higgins’ character, meanwhile, seemed like the right balance of the obnoxious and the likably vulnerable.  After a ropey start, Luke Treadaway did a good job.  Perhaps the other bit of poetic license with the characters is the concept of Higgins always being obsessed about Davis and having a go at him in public at every opportunity.  From what I can gather of the 1980s-Steve Davis, he’d have spent a lot of time cocooned in his own world of advisers, not really engaging with most of the players and faces on the circuit; so in reality I doubt there’d have been all that many flash points with Alex Higgins.  Well, certainly no more than Higgins had with a load of other players.

To me, the ‘rivalry’ between the two basically serves as an excuse to create a film about the boom times of snooker, but what a noble excuse that is.  It really is a great story to tell; even to people who don’t like snooker, because for a time in the mid 80s, almost everybody did.  In truth, the bigger rivalry was probably Higgins versus his own demons, and as the film points out very poignantly at the end: he died too early, having never really conquered them.
It was not a graceful end for The Hurricane, but thankfully this film will help us remember the good times, albeit in quite a light-hearted fashion.

The Rack Pack is a BBC iPlayer exclusive and you can watch it HERE.