In the run-up to the London Olympics, this athletics-based drama arrives with a yoof soap opera sheen and some fine performances from the young cast. It’s speedy and enjoyable stuff, mixing inspiration and perspiration in just the right measure. Set to a pounding dance score, Fast Girls manages to capture the atmosphere and tension of a big race meet and it doesn’t hold back on the eye candy, either.
Lenora Crichlow plays Shania, a girl from the wrong side of the tracks and the product of a broken home. She lives in tower block poverty but she’s a demon sprinter on the track. She is coached by father figure Brian (a plucky and ever-watchable Philip Davis), who, in a nice touch, has a mischievous dog called Linford. Against the odds (mostly the vexed issue of funding), Shania qualifies to take part in the World Athletics Championships.
Thrown headfirst into the competitive and bitchy (in this movie at least) world of the track, the spirited but slightly ill-at-ease Shania soon makes an arch enemy in the shape of spoilt little rich bitch Lisa (a very good Lily James) and her overbearing father (Rupert Graves), a former Olympic gold medallist who’s clearly reliving his past glories through his talented daughter.
First-time director Hall handles the actual sprinting sequences with style and skill and rarely resorts to the default mode of slow motion to make mere actors look like they’re hitting the extraordinary speeds of real athletes. Fast Girls also puts a new spin on the olde English expression “fit bird”, with lingering shots of taut abs. The lingo of lurve here is summed up in the tentative romance between Shania and the team's posh boy physio when he compliments her on her "strong glutes".
Crichlow (who played Annie in Being Human) is particularly commanding as a flawed heroine caught between the realities of life at home and straining hamstrings and breaking her heart for gold medal glory. She’s surrounded by a likeable cast of characters - who look and behave like a spirited girl band -and Graves does a nicely understated job playing the manipulative bad guy. There’s also a turn by former EastEnders actress Tiana Benjamin as Shania’s bewildering, selfish sister.
Movies about sport can often misfire and fail to capture the drama and action of the discipline itself, but Fast Girls doesn’t aim too high. It’s a small affair with a big heart that mostly ducks sentimentality and may even put some va-va-vroom into Britain’s hopes come July 27.