Ben Stokes faces ‘mental breakdown’ and career crossroads in documentary
Ben Stokes thinks audiences will see a different side of him in a new documentary where he finds himself dealing with a “mental breakdown” and is pushed to the brink of abandoning the career that made him a star.
The England Test captain attended a preview of ‘Ben Stokes: Phoenix from the Ashes’ in London on Monday, four days before it was released to the general public on Prime Video.
By the time he arrives on the streaming service he will be fully focused on the red ball rather than the red carpet, leading his side’s charge against South Africa at Old Trafford, but the film clearly shows just how he came to walk away.
While there are moving footage from his golden summer of 2019, when he steered England to World Cup glory at Lord’s and conjured up an all-time Ashes classic at Headingley, the story is shaped by crisis and trauma.
Stokes is facing his 2017 arrest in Bristol, the ensuing trial and eventual acquittal of the affray charges more fully than ever before, openly angered by the lack of support from some members of the English hierarchy and wondering if he ” was playing for the wrong people. It also provides a touching front-row seat to his final days with Father Ged, who died in 2020 of brain cancer during filming.
When Stokes began to struggle with anxiety and panic attacks, eventually stepping away from sports to prioritize his mental health, production could have easily come to a halt altogether. But instead, the cameras keep rolling and he appears, looking emaciated and agitated, during a stark interview with Oscar-winning director Sam Mendes.
“People may have an opinion of me by watching me on a cricket pitch or at press conferences, but they won’t know what I am apart from that. They will come away knowing a lot more about me,” he told the PA news agency.
There was no written script that said “18 months later, Ben is going to have a nervous breakdown and be absent from the game”. I wanted it to be authentic, to be me.
“I made a real effort, I wanted it to be authentic, to be me. It wasn’t about saying, ‘I have a documentary on Amazon, watch me’. I didn’t want it to be bull**** ‘RP’ stuff.
“At no point did I want him set up to look good. There was no written script that said ’18 months later, Ben is going to have a nervous breakdown and miss the game’. But now I’m watching this and it was really important that I give everything I could to that period of my life and put it in the film.
“I wouldn’t call it a cricket documentary. It’s about my life, the things I’ve been through, the things I’ve had to overcome. It opens me up to a lot more than people expect to see in the difficult times that everyone is going through.
“I think it will help people. If it helps a person, I will be very proud. I decided to do this, to show it to the world and I’m proud of what I managed to open and say.
His England team-mate Stuart Broad is one of many notable contributors, at one point pointing the finger at the elephant in the room: that break from Stokes last summer felt at one point permanent.
“I think one of the hardest things to watch the first time around was the two-second clip when Broady said I’m never gonna play again,” Stokes said.
“I talked to him a lot when I was out of the game, but just chatting, nothing to do with how I felt or with cricket. Personally, I was at a stage where I was like ‘no, I won’t play again “I don’t have it in me. But for one of my closest friends to feel like that just talking to me? Seeing him say that made me cringe a bit. I didn’t realized it was so bad.”
In a moment of memorable bluntness, Stokes makes a veiled reference to an unnamed ‘suit’ whose behavior during the Bristol affair left him pondering his future with England. He later recalled offering the same person a brief and colorful response when they sought to share their World Cup triumph.
Given his current status as test skipper, it wouldn’t have come as a shock if this footage had hit the editing room floor. Instead, it’s a reminder that Stokes will continue to speak his mind.
“This piece is…interesting. I’m surprised he’s still here, but I’m glad he’s there,” he said.
“Suit is just a word I used. I didn’t throw any names or people under the bus, that’s not my point. I would never name or shame anyone, it is just useless. But the person, if they look, knows exactly who I’m talking about.
:: Ben Stokes: Phoenix from the Ashes hits Prime Video Friday, August 26