Toby Jones is to star in a fact-based BBC2 drama about a man with learning difficulties who led an extraordinary life that saw him playing for Stoke City football club as well as working as a lay preacher and a circus clown.
The 90-minute film, called Marvellous, sees Jones take on the role of Neil Baldwin, whom award-winning writer Peter Bowker became fascinated by after reading about him in a 2010 newspaper article.
Baldwin has packed a lot into his life, including a role as kit man at Stoke City where he became firm friends with the then manager, Lou Macari, and once led the team’s attack against Aston Villa in a testimonial match.
However the man who is on first name terms with leading sportsmen and senior clergy, and was recently awarded an Honorary Degree by Keele University for the contributions he has made to campus life there across the last 50 years, was written off in his early life for having learning difficulties.
Bowker, whose work includes the awards laden Iraq drama Occupation as well as a Morecambe and Wise biopic said: “I have long been interested in how we use labels to limit the people we are describing – even, at worse, to dehumanise them. But Neil – despite being labelled and to some extent written off as a young man – struck me as a man who defied those who wished to define him.
“It struck me if there was going to be a drama about Neil then it had to reflect his fluid and eccentric story. It is, therefore, part biopic, part musical, part fantasy. It isn’t always an easy story. It isn’t sugar coated, but I think it is ultimately optimistic and celebratory. And I think that’s important in this era where vilifying and writing off others has become something of a national pastime.”
Jones, who played the part of Alfred Hitchcock in the BBC2 film The Girl, said: “I am really intrigued and eager to explore Peter Bowker’s innovative and uplifting script.”
BBC commissioning editor Lucy Richer said that the drama would offer “unmissable viewing”.
The film – which is not expected to be broadcast before much later this year – also has the distinction of being the first British TV project directed by Julian Farino, the auteur who left the UK in 2004 to work for HBO and was leading director and executive producer on the hit series Entourage.
Farino and Bowker last collaborated on the award winning BBC2 single drama Flesh and Blood.