England rugby star Ben Cohen reveals details of Hollywood biopic about his life

The former England international explains how the new film charting his career will focus on both the 2003 World Cup final and the death of his father

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England may not have read the Rugby World Cup script, but the life of 2003 winner and anti-bullying campaigner Ben Cohen has attracted the attention of Hollywood.

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The former England rugby star confirmed that a Hollywood biopic following the story of his and his father’s life was going ahead, and revealed details about how the movie is set to play out.

“To have a film made about you is incredible. It’s very surreal, when you start talking about actors who are going to play you in movies,” he said at the Cheltenham Literature Festival.

Cohen calls it “a Hollywood movie about achieving greatness through tragedy”, and while his troubled career has been well-documented in his autobiography, if you don’t want the upcoming film spoiled, best look away now.

“We’re just about to make a movie of my life,” he said. “It’s based on the timeline of the World Cup final: first half, second half, extra time, 90 minutes, 100 minutes.

“It starts off with the national anthem, going along and stopping at my face. It goes round the back of my head through my eyes, and I spot my family in the crowd, and it kicks off. In the first half of the World Cup we dominate the game,” he said. “Second half, we don’t score a point – only found that out about two years ago.

“But what [the film] does is flash back in time to my life and my dad’s life. In the second half when we don’t score a point, it reflects my life breaking down, my mum’s and my dad’s. At certain points in the game a picture flashes in and out of the game, but you don’t know what that picture is. You hear a heartbeat, a pulsating sound.

“As we go into extra time, as we kick for World Cup glory, that picture becomes clearer, and obviously what it is is my Dad being beaten up,” he explained.

Ben Cohen’s father Peter died of head injuries after being attacked while trying to break up a fight in a Northampton nightclub he ran with his son (Ben’s brother) Justin in October 2000. 

Peter passed away in hospital on 13th November. Ben was training with England at the time, and had just been selected to play in an upcoming autumn international, before his coach Clive Woodward had to break the news.

Three years later, and after going through a lengthy court case involving his father’s three attackers, he lifted the Rugby World Cup with England: “The one thing that that pain and anger did to me was make me overperform massively,” he said. “I overachieved in my rugby without a shadow of a doubt, through pain, through anger, and through determination to prove people wrong.”

The rugby player, who retired in 2011 to launch an anti-bullying foundation, said it was “an honour” to have a film made about his father.

“The twist in the film is not the fact that we win the World Cup,” he said. “The twist in the film is that my mum and dad are in the stands, and my dad fades away. It’s a beautiful father-son script, and the feedback we’ve got from that is amazing. It’s an honour to have a film made about me and my Dad.”

Rugby has been a surprise interest for Hollywood producers: 2009 film Invictus told the story of the 1995 South Africa World Cup, starring Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon.

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And there have been regular talks, but as yet no confirmed plans, of a film about Welsh rugby star Gareth Thomas, who came out as gay in 2009.