The remarkable true story of two brothers who risked everything to beat each other.


DAVID LIVINGSTON, 20 years old, has lived his entire life in awe of his elder brother James’ prodigious talent. JAMES, 22, is smart, charming, good-looking and an academic high-achiever whose every endeavour seemingly turns to gold. His girlfriend SAM is stunningly beautiful. Only one prize, as yet, eludes him. A gifted rower, James’ life-long ambition is to win the annual Oxford and Cambridge University Boat Race for Cambridge University.

David possesses fewer of James’ qualities. Shy, graceless and uneasy in his own skin, David has yet to find a regular girlfriend. But David too, is an oarsman and has nursed a dream since boyhood; to step out from the shadows and topple his all-conquering brother. After a life-time of coming second, David aches for the glory of taking first place.

The Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race is the world’s most famous rowing event, with the rivalry between Oxford and Cambridge as deep-seated and visceral as any in sport. Contested on London’s River Thames, over four and a quarter miles of treacherous tidal water in unpredictable spring weather, it’s also one of sport’s most punishing trials. Three times as long as an Olympic rowing final, it was once thought that to compete in the race was to lose five years from an oarsman’s life.

In 2002, in his last year of University (and his third and final attempt), James wins selection for the Cambridge crew. David, now attending rival Oxford University, watches the race from the riverbank having resolved that next year, 2003 – when his brother’s off the scene – will be the year that David stakes his claim for boat-race glory.

For four agonizing miles and more, the Cambridge boat leads the race but barely 200 yards from the finish, as it seems that victory is theirs, one of James’ crew-mates collapses from exhaustion and Oxford steal the victory.

That night, at the glamorous post-race ball, a stricken James vows to return for one more year to compete in the 2003 race, setting in train a sequence of events that, for the first time in 103 years, will see brother racing against brother in the toughest boat race in the world. When Dave, once again, will be fighting to emerge from his brother’s shadow.

On the surface, this is a story that evokes the iconic dreaming spires of ‘Brideshead Revisited’: but the reality is as brutal as ‘Fight Club’. Hatred for the opposition is mandatory and when the opposition is your own brother, family life is destroyed. Parents, KATE and JOHN LIVINGSTON watch helplessly as their sons turn against each, tearing apart the very fabric of their lives. David gains strength and self-esteem from his first meaningful relationship with an American exchange student, AMY but in time, as the war between the brothers becomes ever more bitter, Amy, like Sam, no longer recognises the boy she thought she loved and both relationships fall sacrifice to the race.. All this damage, just for one race? No, it’s more than that; this is a contest for the brothers’ very identities. If Dave doesn’t win, he may never emerge from his brother’s shadow as a fully realised adult. If James doesn’t win, he will carry the disabling monkey of defeat on his back for the rest of his life. This is a fight to the death.

On a cold and blustery day, watched by hundreds of thousands on the banks of the Thames and hundreds of millions on TV worldwide,150 years of history and heartbreak conspire to bring the country to a halt to witness the tradition and the tribalism of one of the great sagas of English sporting life

The two boats approach the start line. What happens next will be the stuff of legends, a race of brutal, lung-searing savagery that sees James and David dredge the depths of their souls, to contest the closest winning margin in the history of the event (just one foot). For the winner, there is triumph drenched in regret: for the loser, a cloud of devastation with an unexpected silver lining. And no-one watching the race, will ever forget what they have just seen.