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.
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.
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.
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 14 May 2016
Saw this for the first time in years. It features two things I love Richard Harris and rugby league....Rachel Roberts is amazing as troubled Mrs Hammond, and the northern setting though bleak, not to mention the total lack of glamour in life and sport make this the type of reality fantasy of many a t.v. channel in 2016!. The contempt for the working man lifted out of the depths is so haunting, and the fickle hands from top down does still strike a raw nerve.....just simply an amazing film....quite long.....but magical and bold.
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.
on 22 February 2001
"This Sporting Life" remains a cornerstone of British cinema. Lindsay Anderson's remarkable understanding of the original source material echoes with the political turmoil of the early sixties at the same time as it reminds us that the British New Wave was its own voice. Contrary to critics of the period who denounced this film as derivative of nouvelle vague filmmaking, Anderson and his remarkable team shot the world of class and culture as none had done before. The ragged use of black and white, coupled with a lack of slickness that only compunds the reality of the piece, places us squarely in the squalid and often gritty world of men's locker rooms, desperately lonely rowhouses and heartless luxury. Richard Harris creates a character achingly out of reach of his own emotions and thoughts and Rachel Roberts succeeds as the widow who, sadly, knows nothing but emptiness and tragedy. Both of these actors do the finest work of their careers and they are supported by a quietly powerful ensemble that helps to explain why this period in British filmmaking continues to resonate.
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.
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 20 May 2015
A gritty tale set in the north of England, around the game of Rugby League. Given real authenticity by one of our greatest actors, full of edge and danger, Richard Harris, the like of which we don't see anymore