Joseph Fiennes is to play Gareth Southgate in a new play about the England men’s football manager’s “quiet reform” of the beautiful game – and the pressures of taking on the team with “the worst track record for penalties in the world”.
Dear England is written by acclaimed playwright and TV writer James Graham, and takes its name from an open letter to fans written by Southgate in 2021.
The story is inspired by the footballer’s journey from his infamous key penalty miss for England against Germany at Euro 96, to leading England to their first major final since the famous 1966 World Cup victory.
Fiennes, who is known for his roles in TV series including The Handmaid’s Tale and American Horror Story, and films including Shakespeare In Love and Enemy At The Gates, will take on the role when the show opens in June.
“It’s time to change the game,” begins the synopsis for the play, which will be staged at the National Theatre’s Olivier Theatre, in London. “The country that gave the world football has since delivered a painful pattern of loss. Why can’t England’s men win at their own game?
“With the worst track record for penalties in the world, Gareth Southgate knows he needs to open his mind and face up to the years of hurt to take team and country back to the promised land.”
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Graham, whose plays include the Tony-nominated Ink, Privacy, Best Of Enemies and Quiz – about the Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? coughing scandal, which he turned into a TV series in 2020 – said it was the “greatest thrill, if an intimidating responsibility” to tell the story on stage at the National.
“What Gareth Southgate has attempted in his quiet cultural reform of England football I find epic and deeply moving,” he said. “And I’m so grateful to be surrounded by some of British theatre’s most exciting creative talent to unite around this new show.”
Rufus Norris, director of the National Theatre, said: “Dear England is a captivating examination into the complex psychology of the much loved ‘beautiful game’.”
Fiennes is the brother of Harry Potter and James Bond actor Ralph Fiennes and also a distant relative of explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes.
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In 2021, Southgate penned Dear England to fans ahead of the Euro 2020 final (played in 2021 due to the pandemic) against Italy – which England went on to lose, once again, on penalties.
“I think about all the young kids who will be watching this summer, filling out their first wall charts,” he wrote at the end of the letter.
“No matter what happens, I just hope that their parents, teachers and club managers will turn to them and say, ‘Look. That’s the way to represent your country’. That’s what England is about. That is what’s possible. If we can do that, it will be a summer to be proud of.”
Tickets for Dear England go on sale to the public on 9 March 2023, with the play set to run from 10 June to 11 August.