Ronnie O’Sullivan lays bare his triumphs and torments in visceral documentary

<span>Photograph: Oli Scarff/AFP/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Oli Scarff/AFP/Getty Images

One of the more telling moments during Ronnie O’Sullivan: Edge of Everything is a snippet of conversation heard in the family kitchen. Chatting with his partner, Laila Rouass, the subject of this intimate documentary is mulling over his mental health concerns and future in snooker. At the ripe old age of 46, Ronnie has decided he has finally conquered the psychological demons that have plagued him for almost 30 years and will continue to play for the foreseeable future despite his monotonously regular public promises to pack it in.

It is a talk the couple evidently have had before and Rouass explains patiently to O’Sullivan that she thinks “that’s your mood today”. The actor’s tacit implication is that she will be unsurprised if the following day Ronnie is seated in the same room, having the kind of emotional meltdown that will come perilously close to derailing his tilt for a record‑equalling seventh world title some weeks later.

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We get to see that too, such is the access granted by O’Sullivan to the filmmaker Sam Blair and his crew from Studio 99. Their obvious rapport with the subject of their documentary means they are invited into his backstage sanctuary at the Crucible Theatre before and during his world championship win. A dressing room he had likened previously to a jail cell, it is here we watch O’Sullivan visibly buckle under the pressure of a Judd Trump comeback with just one session of the final to go. It is a truly harrowing sight.

With his psychologist Steve Peters looking on, apparently lost for any words beyond uninspiring platitudes, O’Sullivan loses the plot. His massive opening‑day lead has been whittled down to three frames. He’s exhausted. His arms are tight. His vision is blurred. He needs to wash his face. “On every shot I think I’m going to miss,” he says in a panic. “I’m scared, man. I’m scared.”

Soundtracked by the shrieking strings of the film’s scorer, Roger Goula, his anguish is visceral. It’s Ronnie as we’ve never seen him before, but exactly like we thought he might be. In the white-hot heat of the Crucible furnace, we are presented with the worrying sight of an experienced six-time champion almost paralysed with fear. Ultimately he prevails, the microphone with which the filmmakers have fitted him picking up every profanity, rustle, sigh and grunt, as he pots his way into history. It also captures the moving conversation that soundtracks his long post-match embrace with the beaten Trump. “I can’t do this any more, I can’t do it, it’ll kill me,” he subsequently weeps, his face buried in the shoulder of his teenage son.

Ronnie O’Sullivan
Ronnie O’Sullivan: The Edge of Everything is a harrowing watch at times. Photograph: Richard Sellers/PA

Made for Amazon Prime, Edge of Everything is a multilayered, feature‑length film that follows O’Sullivan over the course of three tournaments, up to and including the 2022 world championship while providing a biography of an intriguing life in snooker that is anything but potted. Boasting hitherto unseen footage from the O’Sullivan family archives, along with contributions from a trusted circle of roguish celebrity confidants that include Jimmy White, Ronnie Wood and Damien Hirst, the documentary makes as good a fist as any at getting to the heart of what has made O’Sullivan the mass of occasionally comical contradictions he is today.

Slick editing means we get to see a break compiled by assorted iterations of the player over the past 35 years. Precocious, chubby‑cheeked, schoolboy Ronnie is followed by a beaming teenage Ronnie with the world at his feet, caught on camera just hours before that world is turned upside-down. As his father is sentenced to an 18‑year prison stretch, life hurtles at the fledgling professional faster than a maximum break rattled home in world‑record time.

Spiralling into a “six-year bender” before emerging from the other side, we see balls sunk by addled Ronnie, rehab Ronnie, skinhead Ronnie, long‑haired Ronnie and the all new and improved svelte running Ronnie. While each incarnation of the player looks conspicuously different, they are all searching for that elusive inner peace that is attainable only when they are at the table, in amongst the balls.

While their appearances on screen are largely limited to hitherto unseen archive footage, O’Sullivan’s parents are interviewed off camera and offer plenty of insight into the component parts that contribute to the complex character of their gifted but troubled son. By his own account a happy-go-lucky child who was incredibly close to his extrovert father, O’Sullivan’s stellar snooker career almost ended before it began. In the same year he turned professional his father, Ron Sr, was charged with murder.

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Ronnie’s mother, Maria, elected not to tell her 16-year-old son immediately, instead encouraging him to go to Thailand to play in a scheduled tournament before news of his dad’s arrest hit the headlines. It is a decision she tearfully admits was the worst of her life. His sentence long since served, O’Sullivan Sr remembers being escorted from the dock to begin his 17-year stretch, shouting across the courtroom to his counsel to “tell my boy to win”.

His boy did, repeatedly, despite his initial and occasionally recurring inclination to quit the game he so obviously loves. A longtime source of tranquillity and torment for O’Sullivan, snooker quite clearly has its most mercurial talent over a barrel and for almost 40 years it has been both the cause of and the balm for almost all his pain. “I fucking hate this shit, man,” he tells the makers of The Edge of Everything at one point during this film. “I feel battered.” Viewers may empathise after this often bruising encounter.