A rather incredible life story of Neil Baldwin, a registered clown and former kit-man for the Stoke City FC, Marvellous reminded the audience of how the right attitude to life will bring surprises and rewards.

But who is Neil Baldwin? Why did BBC make a film about him?

Neil Baldwin is a local legend in Keele. The screenwriter, Peter Bowker, read about Baldwin in The Guardian article on the celebration of 50 years of Baldwin’s presence and services at Keele University. In 1960, Baldwin, a schoolboy with learning difficulties, walked into Keele University to greet the students there and never left. He counts some of the famous and important people (bishops and clergymen, footballers, and politicians) as friends, and they would readily affirm his claims.

 

“Marvellous” Trailer

 

The beginning of the film shows an ukulele choir singing “Delilah”, the unofficial anthem of Stoke City FC. The choir serves as musical accompaniment to the drama. A brief look into Neil’s childhood shows a boy who would rather look outside the window than participate in class activity and share a love for football with Mum.

Nello!

The scene then sets to a circus camp (somewhere up north, I think) in which Neil (Toby Jones) is currently being employed as “Nello” the clown. It’s payday and Neil finds his payment short. “It’s supposed to be 25 pound, and it’s not 25.” When the manager refuses to correct this oversight, Neil pulls a prank on him during a live performance. In a way, it sets the mood of the film that even though he is perceived as someone with learning difficulties, it doesn’t mean you can mess with him. But of course, the next day Neil finds himself alone at the campsite, apparently being left out when the circus is moving on. He goes home to Keele after enlisting the help of local clergy and his own Rev. Mark (Nicholas Gleaves).

“What difficulties?”

Neil continues his adventure. He goes out to Keele University Student Union where he greets students and befriends Malcolm Clarke (Greg McHugh). When Stoke City FC gets a new manager, Lou Macari (Tony Curran), Neil goes out to greet and cheer the new manager on. This encounter leads Macari to offer Neil a job as kit-man for Stoke City FC. Of course, Neil agrees. His job descriptions includes donning costumes as mascott, lifting the morale of the team and bearing the brunt of disappoinment and anger, often manifests in insensitive remarks, when they lose a match. In between, Neil finds time to care for his bird collection, participate in a boat race, and meet important people. He also has to convince Mum (Gemma Jones) that he is able to take care of himself and cope with the world after she’s gone.

 

 

You would think a film like this would fall into the extreme of either melodrama, comedy, or tragedy. Yet Marvellous managed to balance the act with just enough bursts. There was a drive to keep going, to move on with life.

The film does not present the life of Neil Baldwin chronologically. Other than the first view minutes where little Neil is spotted, the real events (for example, the real Neil met Malcolm Clarke in his early twenties), stories, and anecdotes are put in small time frame, experienced by an older Neil. This might distract the audience. There is an air of out-of-placeness-yet-not-really about Neil that this arrangement invokes.

“I always wanted to be happy. So I decided to be.”

The casts are wonderful. Gemma Jones gives heart to the film as Mum looks at Neil with pride and worry, as any mother would. People gather around Neil, each shares a part of his life, and form a support system around him as Neil brings out the good in them (there is a story in which he talked a female student out of suicide). This support system extends to include famous names who make cameo, like footballers (Gary Lineker and Uriah Rennie), the real Lou Macari (chatting with the screen Macari at one scene), and veteran circus ringmaster Sir Norman Barrett.

  • “Really?”

  • “You have to carry on, mate!”

The definitive stars are, of course, Toby Jones playing Neil Baldwin and the real Neil Baldwin themselves. Toby is a delight to watch. He projects quiet determination and tenacity that explains Neil’s brand of assertiveness without being obnoxious. There are moments where the real Neil shares the screen and gives insights to Neil about the going-ons. One moment in which Neil was called names in particular defines Neil’s attitude towards life. He is aware of general people’s perception of his condition, that some would underrate and disrespect him, concsiously and unconsciously. Yet he decides to live on with joy as “there are good ones” he will meet, some of whom Neil would call “a good friend of mine.”

And he’s got a lot of them.

“I met a lot of people in my life… and I’m glad I did.” Neil Baldwin