The life of a former alcoholic street thief turned chess champ (and eventually author) is the subject of this fly-on-the-wall documentary, shedding light onto John Healy’s tumultuous early years in the ‘60s. Paul Duane, director-storyteller of this feature film seeks to depict an eccentric by picking up excerpts from Healy’s autobiography The Grass Arena (1988) as well as recent footage of the man who has led an extraordinary life.
Born to working class Irish immigrant parents, Healy was sublet to the underbellies of London society as a wino fighting his day with a rugged insolence and his nights with drunkenness. Being brought up in an England recovering from the cusp of the war – and facing the rise in prosperity of the working-class as well as immigration, there were hidden tensions surrounding class, privilege and education that cut deep into Healy’s shell. Our protagonist gives a vivid first-person narrative of his Dickensian adventures throughout and one is put in a full view of the obscenities and violence of his life.
To those whom the man is wildly memorable (given his brief but captivating limelight in the early ‘90s), it may be surprising to see Healy significantly aged at 69. It has been more than 15 years since he was last heard of or seen. In and out of scenes cut of Healy and Duane’s interviewees, the best of Healy’s belligerent mannerisms combined with the truth of heartfelt warmth are felt and understood.
Make no mistake though, Healy does not believe in forgiveness or the weakness of regrets. He holds the audience in far view as little does he panders to any sense of pride or shame. An epitome of authenticity and raw gut feeling, Healy is a star rightfully restored to our presence, someone who has been through it all – death, fame, love and hell. Despite feelings that our actor is a reluctant hero perceiving little sense in fate or future, Duane’s depiction of this prototypical tragic figure transcends to give this man a mythical status. (Words: Li Yin Soh)
In cinemas now.