Once Were Lions


Feature-length film with unprecedented and unfettered access to the Lions’ first tour in 12 years by the Rugby Football League.

The documentary follows the GB Lions as they tour New Zealand and Papua New Guinea. Given unprecedented and unfettered access to the Lions’ first tour in 12 years by the Rugby Football League, the film looks thoughtfully at a game of immense skill, strength and speed with a unique heritage and international popularity, and reflects on the GB Lions’ performance.

The film also explores Rugby League’s northern heartlands, as well as issues of masculinity, race, class, friendship, ambition and sacrifice, and looks ahead to the future of the sport, with the 2021 Rugby League World Cup due to be hosted in England.

Dan McGolpin, controller of BBC iPlayer, says: “This gripping documentary film gives iPlayer viewers privileged access to the GB Lions squad on tour together with fascinating insights into Rugby League, its roots and its future. Whether you are new to the sport or already a fan, it’s an enjoyable and rewarding watch ahead of next year’s World Cup.”

Mike Benson, executive producer, says: “Once Were Lions is about much more than a rugby league tour… it is about forgotten towns and teams, and a proud sport that’s in search of a future. Rugby League has always been tied to class, industry, stereotypes and politics – something it still struggles to escape and our film seeks to explore these themes.”

Ad Hoc Films’ Mat Hodgson adds: “We are always drawn to high-end sporting stories that can provide a dramatic backdrop to wider issues. Rugby League is a multi-layered sport of extreme physical skill, intense camaraderie and mental demands, which embodies different communities and fosters a strong and deep-rooted sense of social identity. Exploring these issues via behind-the-scenes access to the GB Lions on tour - the bruises, the brutal blows, the band of brothers kinship - proves to be a compelling examination of the sport’s significance both on the pitch and far beyond.”

The feature-length documentary was produced by Chalkboard TV and award-winning documentary producer Ad Hoc Films. Executive producers are Mike Benson from Chalkboard, Mat Hodgson and Daniel Glynn from Ad Hoc, and Mandy Chang and Jo Lapping from the BBC.

Available to watch from Saturday 21st November on BBC iPlayer. 

  • GenreFactual
  • Duration1x60'
  • Broadcaster BBC One
  • CompletionNovember 2020