Getty ImagesMarc Pfitzenreuter
When most people fight with their family, they do it with words. When the Bevis family fights, they do it with steel chairs.
Depending on how generous you want to be, their family dynamic is either unique or alarming. Either way, it makes for a great movie—namely, Fighting with My Family, the new wrestling flick from director Stephen Merchant and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s production company, Seven Bucks.
The film puts the real-life Bevis clan’s loving pugilism on screen, casting Nick Frost as patriarch Patrick “Rowdy Rick Knight” Bevis; Lena Headey as Julia “Sweet Saraya” Bevis; Jack Lowden as Zak “Zodiac” Bevis; and Florence Pugh as Saraya “Paige” Bevis, two-time WWE Divas champion, general manager for WWE’s SmackDown, and the first Women’s Champion in NXT, the WWE’s farm program, where young talent is nurtured through a regimen of bruising and beatings.
Merchant sticks closely to Paige’s true story, fudging the truth only when he must to make his narrative work. Her biography is fascinating enough without much need for embellishment.
Yes, Paige really came from a wrestling family.
Paige’s journey began in Norwich, a historic city in Norfolk county, settled along England’s eastern shorelines; her father, Patrick, and her mother, Julia, married in 1990, the same decade they both started their wrestling careers and formed their own promotion, the World Association of Wrestling, right at home in Norwich.
There, Paige made her debut as Britani Knight—not quite her A Star is Born moment, but a first step toward becoming the name she is today. That was 2005. Paige was born in 1992. That means Paige started kicking people’s asses her as a teenager, and then spent six years wrestling across Britain and Europe, throwing down in Scotland, Wales, Germany, France, and Belgium, winning title belts and building a reputation for herself along the way. Her accomplishments impress on their own, but doubly so on account of her age.
Fighting With My Family focuses more on Paige’s WWE career.
Fighting with My Family spends most of its time on Paige’s relationship with the WWE beginning in 2011, when a tryout for a talent scout led to her signing with the company in September of that year.
The real Paige went to Florida Championship Wrestling, the WWE’s farm program at the time before rebranding FCW as NXT in 2012. That’s where Merchant spends most of his time with Pugh and co-star Vince Vaughn, playing Paige’s NXT coach, Hutch Morgan. Hutch is Paige’s foil, the failed wrestler turned trainer for stars with brighter futures; he’s also made up, a character borrowing bits and pieces from current NXT trainer Matt Bloom as well as ex-NXT trainer Bill DeMott.
Though various reviews have made the link between Hutch and DeMott, the character doesn’t officially represent the trainer—and for good reason. Former WWE wrestlers have accused DeMott of all sorts of disturbing behavior, including physical and emotional abuse. The WWE didn’t fire him; he resigned while denying allegations against him, including those made by Paige herself.
DeMott’s own wrestling career is a rollercoaster, but his time ran out in 2015. Paige Bevis, meanwhile, has continued making waves in the WWE, both for better and for worse, including latter day woes that top out at the criminal dissemination of sex tapes by malicious hackers—a horrific two-pronged source of stress that weighed her down so much she ended up being hospitalized. None of that happens in Fighting with My Family, which ends in 2014.
What else from Paige’s life never made it into the movie?
Merchant warehouses Paige’s career in the structure of the inspiring sports film, breezing past the details NXT Women’s Champion run and condensing her victory over Divas Champion AJ Lee (played by Zelina Vega) on her 2014 Raw debut; the NXT Women’s Champion title isn’t even mentioned, giving the impression that Paige, on her first Raw appearance, won the Divas Championship as a total unknown.
But Paige had a following in 2014; the WWE, after all, is too shrewd to hand over major titles to rookies. Merchant just happens to be equally as shrewd. He knows that Fighting with My Family works better through dramatization, and that great drama demands a greater underdog. Pugh’s winning blend of insouciance and poise—key to her work in movies like Lady Macbeth—emphasizes that underdog element, making her a young aspirant who’s easy to root for. There’s urgency to her performance that’s mellowed out by Vaughn’s coarse world-weariness. Together, they make Merchant’s fictions more exciting than the truth. For a movie about wrestling, fake and yet at times more honest than the real world, that couldn’t be more fitting.