Should Gareth Southgate actually win a trophy, then Joseph Fiennes is putting himself forward to star in the movie. Until January, the Shakespeare In Love actor will continue to play the England manager at London’s Prince Edward Theatre in James Graham’s play “Dear England”.
Currently, the narrative ends with Harry Kane’s penalty miss in Qatar, but Fiennes fancies there might still be an opportunity for a rewrite. “A Hollywood ending? Wouldn’t it be great,” he said. “The icing on the cake, without a doubt.
“I did think it would be fantastic if we got to revisit this play in several months from now and were to imagine it ending with major silverware. I would love to come back and put that waistcoat on one more time, on stage or maybe even in another adaptation, and celebrate that moment.
“Having begun to get so familiar with him, every atom and molecule of my being is invested in him now.” That said, Fiennes is keen to stress the message of Dear England is that the country needs to learn to lose rather than win.
“There is an extraordinary thing to learn about loss which extends beyond the players to those who are watching and how they respond to a win or a loss,” he said. “There is a tiny, ugly percentage of spectators and it is important that we learn how to lose.
“As a country, that can have a huge psychological effect on those players. If there is hate or vitriol, that is damaging. But if there is a sense of respect and an acknowledgement that we did our best, then we hope the response is not so vitriolic.
“Wembley holds 90,000 fans. I am on stage in front of nearly 2,000 people and that is pretty overwhelming and if I had just one of them shouting out and being abusive, it would be very upsetting. So I cannot imagine what it is like in a stadium. And then there is social media…
“How do you live with that and still produce results for your country?” Thankfully, it has largely been standing ovations for Fiennes and the rest of the cast for their uncanny portrayal of the England squad.
The portrayal of Southgate himself is a remarkable physical performance, capturing beautifully the mannerisms of a gentle, thoughtful, emotional man operating in an intensely macho environment.
Crucially, though, it also highlights the inner steel that enabled Southgate to climb from being just “Gareth from Crawley” – which sounds more like a travel-agent, as he says in the play – to a man who competed as a no-nonsense centre-back 57 times for his country. Even if his playing days are only ever remembered for THAT spot-kick.
“Ultimately he has all the credentials to bring us success,” Fiennes said. “But he understands what it is to win deep, not just to go for that one World Cup. We will reap the benefits of his groundwork.
“The majority of us would have been crippled by the responses to his penalty miss at Euro 96. He has forged himself out of great hurt and that is a testament to his spirit and what he can bring to other players.
“Tactically? I don’t understand it. That is for other people. But for me, psychologically, he is kind of heroic.”
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