Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Stevan Riley.
Like all great documentaries, Fire In Babylon has a broad appeal that goes beyond an interest in the subject matter. While Fire In Babylon is about the game of cricket it actually also delves into the politics of the sport and places it into the broader context of the social change that was occurring.
In the late 60’s, the West Indies cricket team was regarded as something of a joke, and their pathetic on field performances were greeted with the derogatory term “Calypso Cricket.” They also had to deal with prejudice and racist taunts on the sporting field. The team reached a low point in the 1975 Test tour of Australia when they were comprehensively thrashed by the fast bowling onslaught of Lillee and Thompson.
Determined to turn their image around captain Clive Lloyd began to patiently rebuild the team. He rebuilt the team to include an aggressive fast bowling attack that had the British calling for changes in the game to stop the West Indies. By the end of the 70’s the West Indies had become virtually invincible, and for the next fifteen years they dominated the sport like no other team, remaining unbeaten in Test matches during that period.
Fire In Babylon is a real story of the triumph of an underdog against the odds. It places the rise of the West Indies team against a broader social, cultural and political background that was shaking up the world at the time. South Africa was in the grip of the brutal apartheid regime, England suffered race riots, and the Caribbean itself was scarred by civil unrest.
This well-researched documentary from British director Stevan Riley looks at the civil rights movement, the country’s drive to seek independence and shake of its colonial roots, the move towards freedom, unity, and pride. The achievements of the cricket team on the field reflected this turbulent period of social change. Riley traces the development of cricket within the Caribbean nations and looks at how it considered a symbol of colonialist rule and why it was important for them to beat the English at their own game. The film also looks at the development of Kerry Packer’s World Series Cricket, which forever changed the face of cricket and was a turning point in the fortunes of the West Indies team.
Writer/director Riley (Blue Blood, etc) obviously has a passion for sports-based documentaries. Here he draws upon a wealth of deftly edited archival material; and there is plenty of cricket action, especially in the marvellous footage of their fast bowlers besieging the opposition batsmen. There are also interviews with a number of famous figures including Viv Richards, Clive Lloyd and fast bowler Michael Harding, who talk candidly about the resurgence of the West Indies team. And there is a wonderfully infectious reggae-flavoured soundtrack that features a number of Caribbean musicians, including former Wailers band member Bunny Wailer.
Even if you do not particularly like cricket, Fire In Babylon is a fascinating, revealing and accessible documentary.