Ben Stokes lays controversies, trauma and mental breakdown bare in documentary

Considered among the greatest all-rounders of his generation, Ben Stokes became England captain soon after returning from his 'indefinite break'. Credit: PA

Ben Stokes believes the public will see a different side to him in a film which documents the "mental breakdown" that drove him to the brink of abandoning cricket.

The England Test captain attended a preview screening of 'Ben Stokes: Phoenix from the Ashes' in London on Monday (22 August).

It reveals just how close Stokes was from leaving the game.

While there are sequences from his golden summer of 2019, when he steered England to World Cup glory at Lord's and conjured an all-time Ashes classic innings at Headingley, the narrative is shaped by crisis and trauma.

The Durham player confronts his 2017 arrest in Bristol, the subsequent trial and eventual acquittal on charges of affray more fully than ever before, openly resentful about a lack of support from some in the England hierarchy and pondering if he was "playing for the wrong people".

Stokes and his wife Clare leaving Bristol Crown Court. Credit: PA

The film also documents the final days Stokes spent with father Ged, who died in 2020 of brain cancer during the course of filming.

When Stokes began to struggle with anxiety and panic attacks, ultimately stepping away from the sport to prioritise his mental health, production might easily have halted entirely.

But instead, the cameras keep rolling and he appears, looking gaunt and fretful, during a stark interview segment with Oscar-winning director Sam Mendes.

"People might have an opinion on me from watching me on a cricket field, or from press conferences, but they won't know what I am away from that. They will walk away knowing a lot more about me," said Stokes about the documentary.

"I made a real effort, I wanted it to be genuine, to be me. This wasn't about me saying 'I've got a documentary on Amazon, check me out'."

He continued: "At no point did I ever want it to be set up to look good. There wasn't a script written that said '18 months in we're going to have Ben have a mental breakdown and take time out of the game'.

Stokes' innings during the 2019 Ashes Headingley test is considered one of the greatest of all time. Credit: PA

"But now I look at that and it was really important that I gave as much as I possibly could in that period of my life and put it into the film.

"I wouldn't say this is a documentary about cricket. It's about my life, stuff I've gone through, stuff I've had to overcome. What this does is opens me up a lot more than people expect to see on the hard times that everyone goes through.

"I think it will help people. If it helps one person, I'll be very proud. I decided to do this, to show it to the world and I'm proud of the stuff I've managed to open up and talk about."

England team-mate Stuart Broad is one of several notable contributors, at one stage pointing to the elephant in the room, that Stokes' hiatus last summer felt at one stage like a permanent one.

"I think one of hardest hitting things watching it back the first time was the two-second clip when Broady said that could be me never playing again," said Stokes.

"I spoke to him a lot when I was out of the game but just chit-chat, nothing to do with how I was feeling or about cricket. Personally, I was at a stage where I was like 'nah, I'm not going to play again. I don't have it in me'.

But for one of the closest friends to feel like that just from talking to me? Watching him say that took me back a bit. I didn't realise it was that bad."

Stokes and Broad celebrate together during their latest test against South Africa at Lord's. Credit: PA

In a memorably frank moment, Stokes makes a veiled reference to an unnamed 'suit' whose behaviour during the Bristol affair left him pondering his future with England.

He later recalls offering the same person a brief and colourful response when they sought to share in his World Cup triumph.

Given his current status as Test skipper, it would not have been a shock had that sequence hit the cutting room floor. Instead, it lingers as a reminder that Stokes will continue to speak his mind.

"That bit is... interesting. I'm surprised it's still in there, but I'm glad it's in there," he said.

"Suit is just a word I used. I've not thrown any names or anyone under the bus, it's not what I'm about.

I would never name and shame someone, it's just pointless. But the person, if they watch, knows exactly who I'm on about."

The documentary will be available on Prime Video on Friday.