Directed and Written by: Stevan Riley
Produced by: Charles Steel and John Battsek
Stars: Sir Vivian Richards, Bunny Wailer, Michael Holding, Colin Croft, Frank I, Andy Roberts and Gordon Greenidge
Running time: 83mins
They were the most feared, the most successful, and the most admired sports team of the late 1970’s the 80’s and the 90’s. For close to twenty years, the West Indian cricket team laid waste to every opposition it faced – Australia, England and every other cricketing nation.
They had it all: the perfect sporting storm of God-given talent (Greenidge, Haynes, Garner), killer instinct (Holding, Roberts, Croft), the brazen swagger possessed only by bona-fide champions (Richards) and an unrelenting desire to not just beat their opponents as much as systematically dismantle – and humiliate if necessary – every opposition they faced.
Set amongst the backdrop of the post-civil rights “black is beautiful” seventies, Fire In Babylon explores the intrinsic link between the growth of Rasta consciousness and black pride that fuelled the transformation of West Indian cricket from its happy-go-lucky, benign ‘Calypso cricket’ caricature, to the unstoppable force that was the Windies under Clive Lloyd’s leadership.
The documentary includes in-depth and truly revealing interviews with the key players of the day; Sir Vivian Richards and Michael Holding, Gordon Greenidge and Andy Roberts all brutally honest and candid in their disclosures.
Fire In Babylon also deftly fuses the on-field insights of the players with the social context provided by Bunny Wailer, Frank I and historian, Professor Hilary Beckles. Director Stevan Riley also cleverly utilises local music acts Lord Short Shirt (who’s blue suede shoes are pure artistry), Tapper Zukie and others to underline the social context provided by I, Wailer and Beckles
While a great watch, at times Fire In Babylon lacks a linear narrative and could do with some kind of sign posting – for example, the growth in the players dissatisfaction with their contracts and how this motivated Colin Croft to tour South Africa. The use of newspaper headlines is clever, but for me, fails to genuinely highlight the transformation aspect in the storyline and the rise of the team as a cricket power (Fire In Babylon completely ignores the Windies 1975 World Cup win over Australia, save for out of context archival film of Clive Lloyd being presented with the tournament trophy).
Perhaps due to budget constraints, or perhaps editorial cohesion, Fire In Babylon would have been well served by interviews with those who felt the full force of the West Indian attack at its peak; Tony Grieg, Dennis Lillee, Greg Chappell, Ian Botham or Mike Gatting to name but a few. And a nice concluding touch (although somewhat cliche move) would possibly have been footnoting the players post cricket lives. (“Clive Lloyd retired in 1985 and went on to become an ICC match referee…”)
All that aside, Fire In Babylon is an outstanding piece of documentary making. It is informative, entertaining and accurately reflects the story it is attempting to tell. Fire In Babylon is an essential addition to the cricket fan’s library, but is also essential viewing for those with an interest the inescapable link between sport, politics and social change.
Fire In Babylon is available through Madman distribution.