True blue
Starring: Johan Leysen, Dominic West, Dylan Baher, Geraldine Somerville, Josh Lucas
Director: Ferdinand Fairfax
Year of release: 1997
Country: Canada
screen shots

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Plot summary
Based on the book "True Blue" by Daniel Topolski and Patrick Robinson, curiously this film was reissued in the USA in 2004 under the title "Miracle at Oxford"??

The movie tells the story of the 1987 Oxford Boat Race mutiny, starting in April 1986 when Oxford suffered its first defeat by Cambridge in 11 years.

Angered by the result, one of the Oxford oarsmen, American Rick Ross (Brian McGovern), swears to avenge the defeat and proceeds to import all his mates on the US national squad into Oxford as post-grads so they can redeem the failing Oxford program (not dissimilar to this year then - ahem)

Rowing politics soon raise their ugly head and a power struggle over training methods and crew selection, leads to a bitter clash between the Scottish president of the Oxford Dark Blues, Donald MacDonald (Dominic West) and the American oarsmen.

In the ensuing spat, the Americans pull out six weeks before the race. The stage is then set not only for MacDonald's fightback but for Oxford's coach, Topolski (Johan Leysen), to mould an inexperienced reserve crew into a winning team. The Yanks at Oxford

Those searching for the detailed truth about what really went on in Oxford in 1986/87 should turn their DVD player off and go and read Ali Gill's book "Yanks at Oxford" (if you can manage to find a copy) as it gives a much less biased view of the whole sorry saga.

At the time the movie was released Gavin Stewart, who stroked the 1987 Oxford crew was interviewed by The Times (12/11/96):

"True Blue might best be described as Chariots of Fire meets Rocky IV. Nostalgia for a probably non-existent golden age of amateur sport and a healthy dose of xenophobia are combined with great photography, rousing music and the idea that ultimate in modern training for a rower is running round the woods in a blizzard.

The three main premises of the book and film are that the American rowers didn't want to train hard, that they started the 'mutiny' and that the result was good for the Boat Race. None of these accords with my memory....

We often spent six hours doing two hours' training. Worse, Oxford's loss in 1986, its first since 1975, prompted Dan not to reassess his programme but merely to increase it. If I had turned up at Oxford that year having rowed internationally, I would have been horrified at the time-wasting and lack of quality training.

As for the Americans starting the 'mutiny', well they didn't. The 'mutiny' happened because the squad had lost respect for Donald Macdonald as president, not least because he made it clear that he had a guaranteed seat... The spark was the decision to set aside the result of a trial between Donald and one of the Americans, giving them both seats and dropping another (British) rower. The Americans began by supporting British rowers, not the other way round.

Winning the race was personally more of a relief than a victory... For 1988 , the college captains elected as president one of the infamous non-rowing Yanks - a nice irony and a public sign that all was not as it had been portrayed. A lot changed, including the training programme, helping Oxford to win the next five races."

Rowing info
The Rabbit thinks that the people who were responsible for continuity on this film should have been lined up behind Barnes bridge and shot. The disclaimer at the start of the film hints of some of what comes after, so at least they do give a warning...

The mixture of real boatrace footage from the 1995 boatrace (where Cambridge won) intercut with footage of actors and real rowers recreating the 1987 race leads to numerous strange things going on.

The use of modern plastic boats is common throughout the film but the appearance of cleaver/chopper blades (which didn't make their first outing at the boatrace until 1993) are intermittent, as they repeatedly change to wooden macons and back again. In some clips of the final race, Cambridge suddenly leaps ahead to be a couple of lengths up, only to find themselves languishing behind in the next shot.

Those with eagle eyes will also notice that the tide changes from incoming to outgoing during the course of the 'race' and that the water level is prone to sudden surges both up and down. Also, due to illness one of the Cambridge crew suddenly disappears from the boat somewhere around Hammersmith, to be replaced with someone with different coloured hair... (not sure that's allowed in the rules).

The cast of actors playing the leads (which incidently includes a young Alexis Deinsof, who went on to star in Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel) were taught to row over the six months of filming, and in the end they were good enough to row in more shots than had been anticipated. Though unsurprisingly (they were novices after all) their bladework is a bit scrappy at times.

One of the most enjoyable scenes for watching rowers must be the bit where the Oxford boys are throwing food at pictures of the "Cambridge" rowers and calling them wankers... as they're actually photos of the IC crew who were playing the light blues and include a few well known faces (see picture above).

there are also lots of extras who were roped in from Oxford, Imperial and Brookes (crowd scene at start)and the 'atmospheric background' was filmed at the 1995 Four's Head.

Steve Austin (these days coach of TRC lightweight women and Duke's Head stalwart), plays the losing Oxford stroke in the 1986 race - Steve's overacting in the role is a treat to watch, but Steve defends himself by saying that after sitting in the cold and wet for two hours, they were told to row against the stream, rating 38, for 30 seconds before crossing the finish line, then to 'look really tired'.

When filming of the start of the 1987 race which was set, in a thunderstorm the 'rain' was pumped straight from the river and then hosed over the actors, so every so often a condom or worse would come flying past...

The work of a rowing extra is not always an easy one.

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