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Marvellous, staring Toby Jones is a truly human story about following your dreams and reaching beyond supposed limitation which ultimately are merely societal. This light hearted drama; screened recently on BBC tells the story of Neil Baldwin, a real-life character who achieves beyond what conventional wisdom perceives him able to do. After leaving his steady butchers job almost literally to run away and join the circus Neil is enjoying life as a clown entertaining people until a dispute with the circus’ manager results in him being left behind. Undaunted by this Neil, after a stint working as a recruiter for Stoke University, is eventually hired by Lou Macari, manager of his beloved Stoke City Football Club.

As Stoke City face the usual trials and tribulations of any football club Neil is found pitch side supporting their ups and downs, first as a mascot and eventually as their kit man. Despite receiving abuse from the terraces by fans and players alike Neil takes it in his stride; seeing it simply as banter rather than abuse. Toby Jones; who is quite often seen portraying real-life characters, gives a very human performance. It is neither patronising nor over played in that the plot doesn’t fall into the trap of showing a disabled person who “conquers the world”, instead the film simply follows Neil as he makes his way through many of the chapters of his life. What places a particular icing on this particular cake is that it includes the contribution of the real life Neil Baldwin; there to reassure the audience that this is how it really happened. This aspect shows that the film is as much Neil telling us the audience about his life as it is director Julian Farino and writer Peter Bowker.

On the fringes of the story are some good performances by veteran actress Gemma Jones; who some might remember from such movies as the Harry Potter films, Sense and Sensibility from 1995 and more recently Rocketman, as Neil’s devoted mother who encourages him to reach beyond his supposed limitations. Of course this review also has to include the performance of one Mr. Lou Macari, a true life hero to many football fans of many clubs, who’s deadpan performance is reasonably good for an untrained actor; but hardly surprising when he is basically playing himself.

What is perhaps the most surprising aspect of this piece is that it has a relatively low budget and also that it seems, to all intents and purposes to have been made for TV. In that respect it is a film that is truly reflective of the character that it portrays in that it punches above it’s weight. As Neil’s true to life philosophy goes, “I wanted to be happy so I just did it.”

The Real life character of Neil Baldwin
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