Warnie, Shane Warne

Shane Warne Biopic ‘Warnie’ Is Not Quite Scorsese-Like

Although it imitates some Scorsese methods, rather than giving us an insight into the real Shane Warne, Warnie instead gives us a series of showreels of the controversies in his life.

Geoff Bennett
Chanel 9
25 June 2023 (AU)

Warnie is the hastily put-together biopic of the recently-deceased cricketer and Australian icon, Shane Warne. It’s directed by Geoff Bennett and written by Matt Ford, and stars Alex Williams, Marny Kennedy and Anthony Hayes. Now, I’ll be honest and say that I’m not a cricket tragic. I am, however, a sucker for a good Scorsese-esque, rise and fall narrative. If ever there was a person whose life resembled a Martin Scorsese movie, it’s Shane Warne. 

From his humble beginnings in the outer Melbourne suburb of Black Rock to his international stardom, Warne’s story feels reminiscent of that of two of Scorsese’s famous protagonists: Henry Hill of 1990’s Goodfellas and Jordan Belfort 2013’s The Wolf of Wall Street. There’s certainly plenty of material here. Warne entered cricket as an outsider, and that was much of his appeal. He didn’t fit the mould of what Australians expected in a cricketer, and the media turned him into a celebrity.

That exposure opened up a lot of doors to Warne and ultimately led him to behave poorly in the belief that he was invincible. Then the same media machine that created him turned on him and rocked his career. But, just like any Scorsese film, it’s never quite rags-to-riches-to-rags. Warne created such a brand for himself that he continued to make bucketloads of money well after his cricketing career was over.

Indeed, the Scorsese influence is not lost on the makers of Warnie, employing a constant voice-over narrative just like in Goodfellas. This is a stylistic choice, and it has mixed results. The benefits are that it places viewers inside Warne’s head and establishes him as an unreliable narrator. The downside is that it’s lazy writing, and there’s more telling than showing. 

However, the glaring issue with Warnie is the absence of narrative focus. It begins with the 2020 Michael Parkinson interview featuring the real Shane Warne then there’s the news that Warne has passed. We then get a voice-over narration discussing how great his state funeral is. Given that Warne has only recently passed, the beyond-the-grave narrative seems insensitive, and such a wide scope feels ambitious for a two-part miniseries. 

If the bulk of the narrative occurs during Warne’s test cricket career (between 1992 and 2007), then why not have the series begin with a crucial test match (perhaps his final match) and have him reflect on his career? The decision to cram virtually his whole adult life into two hours seems misguided. There appears to be potential for a strong motif in the prologue, the notion of Warne’s unpredictable bowling style being a metaphor for his chaotic life, but little is done to explore that theme, and it is only touched upon once more in the narrative. 

It’s a shame because the acting is quite good. Alex Williams embodies the titular role, though, as an Australian, I question whether the real Shane Warne had such a stereotypically thick Australian accent. Marny Kennedy gives Simone Callahan a level of authenticity that is commendable, given the weakness of the material. The ever-reliable Anthony Hayes does all he can as TJ, but the telemovie allows little for the character.            

Warnie is not helped by its nonlinear focus, which is not only disorientating for the viewer but also undermines the potential for emotional depth. Rather than giving us an insight into the real Shane Warne, Warnie instead gives us a series of showreels of the controversies in his life. There’s the controversy around Warne being caught smoking after he accepted money to quit, the bribery scandal in Pakistan, the use of a banned substance dieting pill, the sexting scandal, and gossip surrounding his ex-fiancé, Elizabeth Hurley. But none of this really shows who Shane Warne was as a person and what motivated him. 

The decision to focus on Warne’s scandals makes Warnie repetitive and jarring for the viewer, and each controversy seems uninteresting since so little time has been put into establishing the thing that is being threatened (i.e., his marriage, his career). Meanwhile, Warnie‘s nonlinear narrative has the effect of tangling the controversies together. We forget which of Warne’s infidelities is the focus of the current segment, which weakens the weight of Simone’s feeling of betrayal. Because the telemovie hops around so much, we don’t get to see many of the quieter moments that define his central relationships.   

Like Scorsese, the makers of Warnie are into montages. There’s a montage showing Warne’s love for Australian Rules Football, and then he gets a rejection letter from his beloved St. Kilda Football Club. This then leads to another montage where Warne starts playing cricket, and makes it onto the Australian team, only to be later dropped. Then there’s some tough love from the coach and another montage showing Warne getting fit and excel at test cricket. Yes, that’s right, there are three montages in little under ten minutes, giving the viewer little opportunity to empathise with Warne. 

We know of Warne’s love of Australian Rules Football and desire to play for St. Kilda, but when he’s knocked back, he remakes himself into a cricketer so seamlessly that it feels like only a minor setback. We see him dropped from the national team, but within a brief montage, he’s back and firing. We also see some tough exchanges with batsman Steve Waugh (played by Tom Stokes), but we get little insight into their relationship. 

At several points in Warnie, it’s mentioned that Warne may never become captain because of his string of off-field controversies. Once or twice, Warne mentions that he’d like to be captain. But we don’t see that as a constant motivation throughout the series. Very little time is given to the captains before Waugh – Allan Border and Mark Taylor – who Warne played under, so we don’t see the captaincy as this coveted title that has eluded Warne throughout his career. Warnie‘s rare tender moments show Warne to be a laidback family man, so I don’t know why he would want the largely ceremonial position of test captain.   

If, however, an ambition to be test captain is what really drove Warne, then that opens up many interesting questions. Did Warne feel overlooked when Steve Waugh got the nod over him? What was the dynamic like when Waugh was captain and Warne his vice-captain? And, what’s more, did the captaincy come between their friendship? Unfortunately, none of these questions are really explored. Steve Waugh is portrayed as a bland authority figure, and there is little recognition given to his skills as both a cricketer and a leader. 

A similar critique can be made of the rest of the supporting cast. We know that TJ Jensen (played by Anthony Hayes) is a coach and mentor figure to Warne, but only because Warnie‘s overbearing voice-over tells us he is. There is a little depiction of the relationship and how Jensen inspired Warne to succeed. At one point, Jensen chastises Warne for his lack of professionalism, and the writing here is decent, but without any context to their relationship, there’s no reason why this advice should resonate with Warne. 

All of this makes for a painfully by-the-numbers biopic produced by Channel 9, the network which made and broke Shane Warne. When the dust settles (no pun intended) it will be interesting to see another filmmaker bring Shane Warne’s colourful life to the screen. Scorsese would do nicely.

RATING 4 / 10