Set at Greyhawks Rugby Club on this fateful day in 2003, Breakfast with Jonny Wilkinson – based on screenwriter Chris England’s original stage play – focuses on a collection of loyal members potentially losing their base to land developers. Chairman Dave Dowson (Norman Pace) is in bitter competition for the ownership with obnoxious Australian Matt (Michael Beckley), who turns up to watch the game, inflaming an already tense atmosphere. Meanwhile, young prodigy Jake (George MacKay) leaves the room every time star man Wilkinson takes a kick – to reimagine the moment, and kick for glory himself. So the fellow group of ardent England supporters watching on, which also include Nigel (Nigel Lindsay) and Nina (Beth Cordingly), pray that Jake is on his best game, because when he scores, so does Jonny…
As with many plays with a mostly fixed setting and small, intimate cast – it can prove to be something of a challenge to enlarge it cinematically when adapting, and sadly this falls short at this very hurdle. However there are positives to be found, the rivalry is well-judged, and is effective working on two separate levels. Matt is portrayed as pantomime villain of sorts, and this works well in relation to sport, because rivalries within the game work best when somewhat tongue-in-cheek. The way our protagonists go through the motions during the game is depicted comically too, ranging from utter melancholy to pure elation in the blink of an eye, truly encapsulating games of this ilk. In that respect you don’t necessarily need to be a rugby fan to relate to this tale, it just portrays sport in general. Ideally you would like this film to be made about a precious moment in recent years for the England football team, but the problem with that, is that there aren’t any.
One aspect to the narrative which doesn’t work in the slightest, however, is Jake’s surrealistic, telepathic understanding with Jonny Wilkinson. It’s mostly annoying because the kid calls himself a rugby fan, but every time there is a massive moment in the game, the sort that have you watching through your fingers for the implications it could bring about – he trots off outside to live out some deranged daydream. Some fan he is. It’s a nonsensical addition to the film, and incites the most unashamedly mawkish and predictable of romantic subplots. Meanwhile, the jokes are extremely elementary and come out of the Roy Chubby Brown book of comedy, with some shameless objectification of very poorly written female characters, with quips playing up to damaging misrepresentations and stereotypes. “Who would you rather have as club chairman, a woman or an Australian?” being a genuine question posed in this movie.
The acting across the cast is commendable and the visual aesthetic is respectable too, but Breakfast with Jonny Wilkinson suffers from a hackneyed, inane screenplay, building towards an ending that is almost unbearable to watch for its banality, souring such a memorable moment in this country’s sporting history. Still, what a kick.