Anxious to impress his recently widowed landlady, Margaret (Rachel Roberts), Wakefield coal-miner Frank Machin (Richard Harris) gets a trial on a local rugby team where his skills and competitiveness earn him a place on the team. But, as his career progresses, Frank’s ruthless, brutal nature comes to the fore, which distances him from everyone around him, including the emotionally repressed Margaret…
In his stunning 1963 film debut, director Lindsay Anderson, who’d go on to make the seminal 1968 classic If…., takes a brtually honest look at life on the lower ranks of the professional sporting ladder. One of the high points of 1960s British kitchen sink dramas, This Sporting Life is an eloquent portrait of northern England in all its bleakness, that looks quite nostalgic today, and a uncompromising study on working class angst. Anderson uses his keen eye and documentary background to give the film its mud-drenched realism, making every hard knock, fumbled pass and painful tackle count, and embues the film with raw emotion, courtesy of a visceral screenplay from David Storey, based on the former rugby league player’s 1960 novel.
Giving a career-best performance, Richard Harris is the ruthlessly competitive Yorkshireman whose violent anger becomes his undoing. It’s a role that was tailor-made for Harris’s tough, brooding yet sensitive demeanour, scoring him the Best Actor gong at Cannes (he missed out on a BAFTA to Dirk Bogarde) and was the film that launched him onto the international scene. Truly electrifying is Rachel Roberts who won the Best British Actress BAFTA playing the bitter Margaret, while William Hartnell (Doctor Who), Leonard Rossiter (Rising Damp) and Arthur Lowe (Dad’s Army) are among those behind the touchline.
THE UK BLU-RAY RELEASE
The Network Distributing Blu-ray release presents This Sporting Life in a High Definition transfer made from original film elements in its as-exhibited theatrical aspect ratio as part of its The British Film collection. The extras include the original theatrical trailer in standard definition, four galleries of promotional and behind-the-scenes shots, promo material pdf and a commemorative booklet by film historian David Rolinson.
* Lindsay Anderson’s If…. is also out in a new Blu-ray release in the UK from Eureka Entertianinment? Check out my review (just click here).