Paul Wieland’s appealing coming-of-age British drama, Sixty Six, unfolds against the backdrop of the 1966 World Cup in London.
By chance, the final game of this global tournament coincides with Bernie Rubens’ forthcoming bar mitzvah. And herein lies the nub of Sixty Six, which is being screened online by the Toronto Jewish Film Foundation.
A nice Jewish boy, Bernie (Gregg Sulkin) looks forward to the glitter of his bar mitzvah party and the accompanying cornucopia of gifts. It’ll be a shining moment for him.
The plot, anchored in a “tru-ish” story based on Wieland’s own life, is replete with twists and turns.
As Bernie starts his bar mitzvah lessons under the supervision of a blind rabbi, his father, Manny (Eddie Marsan), and his uncle, Jimmy, receive word that a competitor is interested in buying their successful grocery store. “I’m not selling the shop,” says Manny firmly. “It’s a matter of principle.”
In the meantime, Bernie is diagnosed with asthma. This means he cannot continue to play on his school’s soccer team, a devastating blow for a kid who loves the sport.
Manny’s refusal to sell his grocery has adverse financial repercussions. He and his wife, Esther (Helena Bonham Carter), will have to scale back his son’s bar mitzvah ceremony by a considerable margin. Bernie is disappointed, thinking his parents should spare no expense in giving him a memorable bar mitzvah.
Bernie, convincingly portrayed by Sulkin, suffers another setback when he learns that the World Cup final match will take place on the day of his bar mitzvah. Manny assures him that the British side will not get that far. Brazil and Portugal are the favorites to make it to the final game.
At this juncture, Manny decides to sell his shop, but he cannot go through with the sale due to a delicate problem. He and Jimmy buy a new business, but a fire wipes out a stash of cash Manny has not declared, forcing him to further downgrade the scope of Bernie’s bar mitzvah.
Being focused on the World Cup, Bernie takes this bad news in stride. But he’s worried that Britain may win more games than expected. Having defeated Mexico, France and Portugal, Britain is now on a roll.
Improbably, Britain reaches the final game with West Germany. Much to Bernie’s horror, it coincides with his bar mitzvah, which goes ahead as scheduled. However, Manny pulls enough strings to ensure that Bernie can enjoy the best of both worlds. In the process, they bond as father and son.
During its finest moments, Sixty Six is a heart-warming film for family viewing, a time capsule from a bygone era.