on 30 January 2010
Don't believe any of the stupid and insulting reviews of this film left here by people who are obviously out of sympathy with what it is trying to achieve. This represents the high-point of British film-making: a film about British people made FOR British people - in stark contrast to the junk we tend to produce today, sending ourselves up for the jollification of American onanists. Harris was never as impressive as this again and Rachel Roberts gives a heart-breaking performance as his landlady/love interest (sort of). The supporting cast is impeccable and as for the ending....absolutely devastating. No sense of it being rushed at all - absolutely perfect and right.
Be warned, though: this film is sugar and anaesthetic-free, largely unleavened by humour (and none the worse for that, I'd say). Anyone interested in BRITISH film-making (as opposed to 'films made in Britain') needs to see this film.
This Sporting Life is directed by Lindsay Anderson and written by David Storey. It stars Richard Harris, Rachel Roberts, Alan Badel, William Hartnell, Colin Blakely, Vanda Godsell and Anne Cunningham. Music is by Roberto Gerhard and cinematography by Denys Coop.
Frank Machin (Harris) gets the opportunity to utilise his brute strength and angry nature out on the Rugby League field. It looks a match made in sporting heaven as Machin quickly establishes himself as a star in waiting, but off the field he is less successful at life's challenges...
You taking the jam out of someone's sandwich without asking for it?
Pigeon holed as Brit Kitchen Sink Drama or Brit New Wave, This Sporting Life is regardless a very unique and powerful film. It was director Anderson's first full length feature and also Harris' break out performance. What transpires over the course of the two hour plus running time, is a tale of mud, blood and emotionally fractured characters. Set to a grim back drop of a damp Yorkshire city, with coal mines and factories the means of employment, the streets are paved with stone and the terraced houses charred by the soot of the chimney smoke.
Just a big ape on the football field.
This back drop marries up perfectly with Machin's life, where even out on the pitch he comes to understand that he's in a vortex of unfulfillment. There are some bright spots dripped into proceedings, hope dangled like a golden carrot, especially with one beautiful sequence as Frank plays with Margaret's (Roberts) kids, but bleakness is never far away, the story demands that. Margaret is his landlady and object of his brutish desire, she's one of life's warriors but struggling to keep up the good fight. Widowed and still burned by her husband's death, her relationship with Frank is heart aching in its hopelessness. Has the polishing of a pair of boots ever been so sad as it is here?
Harris is a revelation, a tour de force, feral yet anguished, all coiled up in one hulking frame. Roberts, likewise, is terrific, a measured and layered turn that helps to bring the best out of Harris. Around the central pair are a roll call of grand British actors aiding the quality of the production, while Anderson and his editor Peter Taylor use brilliant bold-cut transitions to let the flashback narrative work its magic. From the whack of an arm thundering into Machin's teeth at the beginning of the film, to his punching of a spider on the wall at the end, this is a 1960s British classic of some considerable worth. 9/10
on 10 August 2010
Having been a Rugby League player himself David Storey, author of both the original novel and the screenplay, knew what he was writing about. But the sporting background, characterised by the often brutal nature of the Rugby League game, is properly subsumed by a story of two people - the miner/player Frank Machin (Richard Harris) and the still young widow Margaret Hammond (Rachel Roberts) with whom he lodges - whose relationship is fatally flawed by the inherently violent nature of the former and the inherently repressed nature of the latter. The setting of a grim Northern town rings true, the match scenes, filmed in Wakefield, are vividly staged, the performances of the principals are outstanding and the rawness and passion of the story climaxes in a genuine - and heartbreaking - tragedy. This has some claim to be the finest of the North of England-based New Wave British films of the period.
on 25 November 2004
Uncompromising, claustrophobic, grubby, pitiless, deadly - this film succeeds in describing the essence of the industrial North before the winds of social change emanating from Swinging London really started to make themselves felt. It is almostly certainly cinema's most 'honest' portrayal of the British working-class milieu in the early-'sixties. For this reason alone it is well worth seeing, but it also features fine acting performances, not only from the two leads, but also from a surprisingly strong supporting cast, which includes a number of household names from the era.
One word of caution concerning this particular presentation: whether due to the original mono soundtrack or the DVD manufacturers/distributors, the audio is poor throughout the film and dialogue occasionally difficult to follow. Subtitles are however provided.
Lindsay Anderson's This Sporting Life now seems more a mishmash of influences than an enduring classic. There's a very strong influence from Truffaut's 400 Blows, a dash of the British Free Cinema movement and a lot of melodramatic kitchen sink `realism,' while the accents are all over the place - set in Wakefield, Yorkshire, the accents veer from Ireland, Wales and all points north. The flashback structure now seems too forced a device to really allow you into the story for far too much of the running time, although the sledgehammer subtly of Roberto Gerhard's crashingly over-the-top monotonal avant-garde score doesn't help by constantly overstating the it's-grim-oop-north clichés as Greek tragedy.
Richard Harris' Frank Machin is very much in the angry-young-man mould of the day - if anything he manages to be more unpleasant than Saturday Night and Sunday Morning's Arthur Seaton and Look Back in Anger's Jimmy Porter combined, an inarticulate brute who thinks he can bulldoze his way to Rugby success (he can) and into landlady Rachel Roberts' heart (he can't, but it's hard to see why he'd want to), so naturally he's heading for a pre-ordained fall. Which, seen today, is part of the problem. The film follows the classic formula of all the kitchen sink films of the day, culminating in what can either be seen as the victory of the system or the triumph of the old moral censorship code - that such characters must always be seen to be punished or to repent. No surprises, not much impact but a surprisingly decent cast. No extras on the DVD either, but a reasonable transfer.
on 26 July 2014
This terrific film is probably the grimmest of the 'kitchen sink' dramas from this era, and it was probably the last. The public grew a bit weary of them I think. But it's wonderful, brilliantly acted and written, and still potent. I think it's a bit patronising to say the film shows the shallow Americans 'what we were all about' because they had their own great films from around this time that reflected their culture. They couldn't have made this great film, and the Brit's couldn't have made their classics. Apples and oranges. The print is stunning. The only minor distraction is Richard Harris's oddly heavy makeup. But it's a great film, and he's great in it, as is the entire cast. And yes, it is a sugar free zone, big time.
Rugby league, kitchen sinks, grim north, dentist, bitter young Yorkshire coal miner and frigid widow. It's not promising material, on the face of it. However, I always reckon that a useful measure of how good a film is, beyond the couple of enjoyable hours actually spent watching it, are the effects that it has on the careers of its creative contributors. It's always said that 'Citizen Kane', for example, launched dozens of careers. 'This Sporting Life' in that regard, was Britain's very own Kane.
It was writer David Storey's first novel and screenplay and it was director Lindsay Anderson's ('If') first feature film. It was the making of Richard Harris (who plays the central character Frank Machin) who won a Best Actor Award at the 1963 Cannes Film Festival, was nominated for an Oscar for Best Actor in a Leading Role and a BAFTA. His co-star, Rachel Roberts, won a BAFTA award and an Oscar nomination for best actress. Among the supporting cast, William Hartnell, got spotted by the first Dr Who producer, Verity Lambert, and was cast soon after as the first ever Doctor Who; and it was the future 'Dad's Army' star, Arthur Lowe's, first prominent role. Frank Windsor, who shortly afterwards began a long running 14 year lead role in 'Z Cars' and 'Softly Softly', plays the dentist. And finally, it was Leonard Rossiter's ('Rising Damp', 'Reginald Perrin') first film role with a significant speaking part - he plays the sports journalist.
Although it is beautifully lensed by its cinematographer, Denys Coop ('A Kind of Loving', 'Billy Liar'), this is not a pleasant film to watch. Richard Harris plays a psychopath feeding himself on the souls of others. But he is not the only one. It is a cruel world that he finds himself in. See how many psychopaths you can diagnose in this film! Unsurprisingly, it did very badly at the UK box office, and was redeemed only by critical success in the United States. But it is still an awesome film. Unusually, in Britain, it was harshly judged at the time as a film whose whole was less than the sum of its parts - an unfair adjudication that has since been comprehensively reversed. 5 stars.
Machin is the star ascendant in the proud form of Rugby League in this period piece, evoking a northern England still divided from the richer south but then the site of the manufacturing and mining heartland, one product of which was this tough sport for macho men.. Yes this is a sports film, but not only that; it is about the blessing of talent and the disaster attendant on not looking after it, on not realizing either that, to quote the awful modern phrase "there's no I in team", which would be news to Machin. He bursts onto the screen as the arch individualist, he thinks that he deserves everything and may break the rules on and off the pitch. He behaves similarly in his relationship with Rachel Roberts's long-suffering widow girlfriend, with her he is boorish but unknowingly dependent on a God-given talent that is all that he has. He thinks he is special, a sort of ubermensch , one who need not obey rules made for littler characters.. He learns for too late that the gods destroy those who fly too close to the Sun, or indeed close to the wind. At the start Machin is the star, but once time and fate have done their bit, the inevitable fate is sealed. The grim north is well evoked, actors like the fine Colin Blakeley and Alan Badel also shine in a compelling film, applicable to more than sport.
on 9 July 2014
Excellent picture & sound on this blu ray of Lindsay Anderson's homoerotic kitchen sink classic.
Comes with a booklet, but extras are limited to photo galleries & a trailer
A working class-class young man (Richard Harris) makes his mark as a particularly violent, tough rugby player, while trying, in his awkward, coarse way to seduce his landlady (Rachel Roberts).
Strong moments of acting, photography, and interesting use of fractured time mark Lindsay Anderson's feature debut. This was a key film of the British New Wave cinema that helped moved English film towards gritty realism. (Ironic, considering Anderson's greatest films; 'If...." and "O Lucky Man" are quite far from that kind of naturalistic realism).
Almost all critics consider it a masterpiece, but on first viewing both the performances and the writing were a bit too theatrical for me to grant it quite that level of perfection.
But I plan to re-see it. As often with films one hears about for years, I may have been over-hyped, and missed some of its greatness. And even as is, I found it a strong, impressive and very worthwhile first feature, worth seeing if you have any interest in any of the elements; the cast, the moment in English history, Lindsay Anderson's great career as a director, etc.
Criterion does their usual great job, with a beautiful transfer, and tons of supplemental material, including a wonderful 50 minute, irony filled autobiographical film by Anderson called 'Is That All There Is?', made not that long before his death.