“Kind of like the opera of my life”
Next up in the list of films I didn’t think I’d ever watch was Paul Potts’ biopic One Chance. For those not in the know or at least have little knowledge of Britain’s Got Talent, he emerged as the winner of the first series, his backstory as an unremarkable mobile telephone salesman with bad teeth the perfect foil for a rich operatic tenor. And as it turns out, his life was a catalogue of misfortunes, bullying and bad health holding back his dream of becoming a singer – perfect material to make into a film one might think.
Not on this evidence. David Frankel’s film is hamstrung from the outset by the fatal miscasting of James Corden in the leading role. Potts, or at least the version that is presented here, is a shy, retiring type full of crippling vulnerabilities and crucially enlivened through the gift of music but Corden conveys little, if any of this through his performance. He’s not helped by having to mime along to Potts’ own voice but there’s something more fundamentally wrong here, Corden’s cursory attempts at impersonation horribly superficial.
Justin Zackham’s screenplay makes some curious choices too, in the desperation to create the desired shape of reality show-friendly narrative and an international appeal. So Potts’ university education and 7 year tenure as a city councillor are erased, his father becomes a pit worker instead of a bus driver, and references to diapers and Seinfeld abound. In so ineffably British a story, such tinkering just seems unnecessary and even a little dishonest, similarly the use of a soundtrack that includes the likes of Taylor Swift flies completely in the face of the music at the heart of the story.
Alexandra Roach brings a much needed honesty as the internet girlfriend Julz who becomes his ever-tolerant wife and there’s a wry humour in seeing Trystan Gravelle as the school bully who continues to plague Potts’ adult existence. But many of the other supporting players are given nothing to work with – Julie Walters is criminally under-used as his wife, likewise Mackenzie Crook and Jemima Rooper as his friends. And Stanley Townsend as Pavarotti raises a chuckle though perhaps not for the right reasons…