Apparently, I wasn’t the only person who enjoyed Keep Your Head Up, Kid: The Don Cherry Story, a television miniseries that first aired on CBC in 2010. Two years later, the Don of Hockey was the subject of a second three-hour miniseries, The Wrath of Grapes: The Don Cherry Story II — a great title for a great follow-up.
The Wrath of Grapes is both a prequel and a sequel to Keep Your Head Up, Kid. It alternates between Cherry’s time in junior hockey — which was skipped entirely in the first film — and in the minors, and as a commentator on Hockey Night In Canada. Jared Keeso reprises his role as Cherry, while Sarah Manninen also returns as his wife Rose. Tyler Johnson plays Cherry during his days in junior hockey, while Jonathan Watton excellently portrays HNIC host Ron MacLean.
The prequel/sequel starts with Don’s last days as the head coach of the Boston Bruins, explaining why he did not return with the team. It then expands on his disastrous season as head coach of the last-place Colorado Rockies, which was only mentioned in the first miniseries. (While goaltender Hardy Astrom is much of the focus, sadly the infamous “beach ball” story is omitted here.) The Wrath of Grapes then highlights the growing pains experienced during his early years on Hockey Night in Canada’s “Coach’s Corner” segment, and even Cherry’s turn as a paid guest speaker on the “rubber chicken circuit.”
Perhaps writer Andrew Wreggitt felt that a movie solely consisting of talking heads would be boring — I am inclined to agree — so hockey action is tailored in by flashing back to Don’s days in junior and in the minor leagues.
The flashbacks are well-integrated into the story. For example, after wrapping a “Coach’s Corner” segment, Ron MacLean asks Cherry if he ever had a concussion. Cherry says no. The story then flashes back to a game where Cherry is concussed and ends up in the hospital, but denies being hurt then so he doesn’t get flak from his coach or teammates.
Cherry’s teenage years, ably played by Johnson, delve into an area of his life not explored in the previous film. He locks horns with a bullying adult while working on a railroad gang one summer, and later stands up several times to Happ Emms, his totalitarian coach in junior.
Keeso’s acting in the first biopic was fine, but he upped his game, improving his diction as Cherry in the second go-round. This time, his narration was almost indistinguishable from the real Don Cherry. Rose Cherry’s “character” was expanded in the sequel, as she provides some of the narration in the story, too. Stephen McHattie returns as Eddie Shore, Cherry’s coach in Springfield, which makes me wonder if every hockey coach prior to 1980 was a complete dictator. And while Watton doesn’t necessarily look like Ron MacLean, he nails the HNIC host’s mannerism’s perfectly.
The only downside in The Wrath of Grapes is actually an upside; Rose Cherry’s death was downplayed significantly; we are spared hospital room drama, crying family or funerals, Rose was an important part of Don’s life, and more about her illness and death probably should have been shown. Then again, Rose is such a likable person that dwelling on, instead of just touching on, her death would have made the rest of Wrath too sad to watch.
What I like about The Wrath of Grapes: The follow-up greatly expands on Don’s train wreck of a year in Colorado, and highlights all of the growing pains he had to endure in becoming hockey’s most popular commentator. The drama of his television career is nicely balanced with hockey action.
What I don’t like about The Wrath of Grapes: Don’s three Calder Cup championships in Rochester, when he was the team’s captain, were only touched on in the first film, and could have been expanded upon here, but are not. A few key people who were omitted in the first film altogether are not addressed in the sequel either. Younger brother Dick Cherry played with Don in the AHL and went on to a two-year NHL career, but isn’t shown or even mentioned. Neither is second wife Luba, who Don married in 1999. This gives us the impression that he was an only child and that he became more outspoken when he didn’t have a wife to “hold him back,” as stated in the film.
There is action and drama — and some legitimately funny moments. The Wrath of Grapes is a wonderful addendum to Keep Your Head Up, Kid. While the first film covers what is arguably the more interesting part of Cherry’s life — minor league hockey player and Boston Bruins coach — the follow-up stands up well as its own story.