Ben Stokes believes the public will see a different side of him in a new documentary in which he is confronted with a “mental breakdown” and is marginalized into giving up the career that made him a star.
The England Test captain attended a preview screening of Ben Stokes: Phoenix from the Ashes in London on Monday, four days before it is released to the general public on Prime Video.
When it hits the streaming service, he’ll be fully focused on the red ball, not the red carpet, and leading his side’s attack against South Africa at Old Trafford, but the film makes it clear just how close he came to walking away .
While there are touching sequences from his golden summer of 2019, as he led England to World Cup glory at Lord’s and evoked an all-time Ashes classic at Headingley, the narrative is steeped in crisis and trauma.
Stokes confronts his 2017 arrest in Bristol, the subsequent trial and eventual acquittal on brawls more fully than ever before, openly upset at a lack of support from some in the English hierarchy and musing if he’s “playing for the wrong people”. He also offers a touching front-row seat to his final days with father Ged, who died of brain cancer during filming in 2020
When Stokes began struggling with anxiety and panic attacks, and eventually retired from sport to prioritize his sanity, production could easily have been shut down entirely. But instead, the cameras keep rolling and he appears looking gaunt and annoyed during a raunchy segment of interviews with Oscar winner Sam Mendes.
“People might have an opinion of me by watching me on a cricket pitch or at press conferences, but they won’t know how far I’m from it. You will go away and know a lot more about me,” he told the PA news agency.
“I really tried, I wanted it to be real, to be myself. This wasn’t about me saying, “I have a documentary on Amazon, check it out.” I didn’t want it to be some bull**** ‘PR’ stuff.
“I never wanted it set up to look good. No script was written that said, “In 18 months, Ben will have a nervous breakdown and take some time off from the game.” But now I’m watching it and it was really important that I gave and put as much as possible into the film at that time in my life.
“I wouldn’t say this is a documentary about cricket. It’s about my life, things I’ve been through, things I’ve had to overcome. What this does is I open up to the hard times everyone is going through a lot more than people would expect.
“I think it will help people. If it helps a person, I’m very proud. I made the decision to show it to the world and I’m proud of what I’ve managed to do to open up and talk about it.”
England team-mate Stuart Broad is one of several notable contributors to once point to the elephant in the room: last summer’s Stokes break felt like a permanent one at one point.
“I think one of the worst things when I first watched it was the two-second clip when Broady said that might mean I’ll never play again,” Stokes said.
“I spoke to him a lot when I wasn’t in the game but just chatted, nothing to do with my feelings or cricket. Personally, I was at a point where I was like, ‘Nah, I’m not going to play again. I don’t have it in me’. But that one of my closest friends feels this way just for talking to me? Seeing him say that brought me back a bit. I didn’t know it was that bad.”
In a memorably candid moment, Stokes makes a veiled reference to an unnamed ‘suit’ whose behavior during the Bristol affair made him reconsider his future with England. He later recalls giving a short and colorful reply to the same person when they tried to be a part of his World Cup triumph.
Given his current status as test skipper, it wouldn’t have been a shock if that sequence hit the cutting room floor. Instead, it’s a reminder that Stokes will continue to speak his mind.
“This part is…interesting. I’m surprised it’s still there, but I’m glad it’s there,” he said.
“Suit is just a word I used. I didn’t throw names or anyone under the bus, that’s not my point. I would never name and shame anyone, it’s just pointless. But the person, if they’re watching, knows exactly who I mean.”
:: Ben Stokes: Phoenix from the Ashes premieres Friday 26th August on Prime Video
https://www.independent.co.uk/sport/cricket/ben-stokes-documentary-phoenix-from-the-ashes-b2150467.html Ben Stokes faces a ‘mental breakdown’ and a crossroads in his career in a documentary