DVD Review: Risen - The Howard Winstone Story

(Scanbox Entertainment)

BOXING movies will always draw comparison to the likes of Rocky, Raging Bull, Cinderella Man and Million Dollar Baby, with Hollywood favouring a style of slow-mo punches and last-minute victories. In complete contrast to their gloss and glamour comes a distinctly British boxing film which brings a gritty realism to the sport on screen.

Stuart Brennan stars as Welsh legend Howard Winstone, a miner’s son who was seen as one of amateur boxing’s most promising rising talents until a fluke industrial accident crushed his hand, costing him three fingertips and preventing him from forming a proper fist.

With the support of his father and a new trainer Winstone pulled himself back from the brink of depression to adapt his technique and develop a new style of fighting which once again saw him seizing victory in amateur bouts, and becoming a contender not only for the British and European titles but also the World Championship itself…

The story behind the scenes of this film is almost as remarkable as the movie itself. Star Brennan spent five years preparing for the role of Howard Winstone, training with the boxer’s best friend Don James, and reaching a standard where he could have turned professional, being made an Honorary World Champion by the WBC and joining the ranks of Nelson Mandela, Bill Clinton and the Pope in doing so.

Because his skill level was so high, Risen became the first boxing movie to portray full-contact fight scenes where the lead actor actually trades blows with his opponents, and combined this with an HD “Glove Cam” process to add an extra dimension to the clashes.

With such a fascinating pedigree, it was always going to be difficult to live up to expectations, and unfortunately director Neil Jones ultimately fails to deliver on the full potential of his true life tale of the underdog’s triumph in the face of overwhelming adversity.

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The biggest weakness is the lack of time spent focusing on the consequences of Winstone’s devastating injury both physically and psychologically, skipping forwards in time to his recovery, which means his fight back to greatness lacks the emotional bite you expect. And perhaps Brennan would have been better served concentrating on his acting as well as his boxing, as his interpretation of Winstone is little more than a caricature, lacking any real depth of character.

The inherently Welshness of the film works in its favour, as it avoids comparisons with its American counterparts, but scenes of Winstone punching bags of coal are still far too close to Rocky Balboa’s meat-warehouse training sessions.

Ultimately Risen is more of a tribute to Winstone’s legend than a biopic of his life story, being so wary of tarnishing his image that he comes across as a saint at times. There are obvious budgetary restrictions, most evidently in the sparsely attended international fights and the way the director tries to hide Winstone’s injured hand out of shot or under a towel, and the largely unknown cast often struggle with their performances, with uncomfortable pauses as they try to remember their lines.

By no means a total disappointment, Risen should still be celebrated as an example of the British film industry trying to rise above its humble roots to deliver something with global appeal. However, it just it isn’t the knockout film Winstone deserved, and you can’t help thinking how much better it would have been with a bit more cash and a stronger director.

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