Oldies but goldies: This Sporting Life (1963)

Director: Lindsay Anderson, Main Cast: Richard Harris, Rachel RobertsColin BlakelyAlan BadelVanda Godsell;


This beautifully shot drama made in 1963 is a perfect example of kitchen sink realism i.e. the British New Wave. Set in Yorkshire, it tells the story of Frank Machin (Harris), a bitter young man who works in a coal mine but dreams of better things. Anderson uses a flashback-narrative for the first half of the film, with a bold cutting style, mixing Frank’s past and present in an effective and haunting way. The viewer learns how he succeeds at a try-out for the Wakefield rugby team, making quite an impression with his ruthless and aggressive style of playing, so much that the owner, Gerald Weaver (Bendel) signs him up in the top team as loose forward. It is also clear that, unlike his sporting life, Frank’s personal life is not so great, he is clearly in love with his recently widowed landlady, Mrs. Margaret Hammond (Roberts), but she treats him rather coldly and doesn’t think much of him. This attitude is an additional spur that pushes Frank to improve his social status and  to obtain the things he wants. Unfortunately for him, life is far more complicated than rugby, although the director appears to suggest a parallel between mining and playing: both are harsh, dirty and consuming. While things seem improving with Margaret, Frank starts to have problems with the team’s management, in particular Mr. Weaver, they do not appreciate his cocky attitude and his recklessness on the field. This happens, purely coincidentally (yeah sure!), right after Frank refuses Mrs. Weaver’s (Godsell) advances, who is not only a predatory woman but also a vindictive one. Naturally nothing will end well, Frank will be left only with his sporting life (which, of course, won’t last very long), vulnerable to the ravages of time and injury. Harris portraits Frank with the right mix of angst, vulnerability, smugness and violence, he gives us a touching and convincing performance that really makes the film. All the scenes between Frank and Margaret are tense, charged with what is not said or done, making this story of amour fou real and believable, the terrible fate of wanting something unattainable. Impressive and gut-wrenching —8/10

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Filed under Kitchen sink realism, Oldies but goldies, Seen at home

2 responses to “Oldies but goldies: This Sporting Life (1963)

  1. One of the great British films of the 60s. I also reviewed it (and some others) here. http://curnblog.com/2014/06/18/british-new-wave-5-movies-gritty-brits/
    Best wishes, Pete.

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