This Sporting Life (1963)

January 15, 1963

NR 2hrs 14 min

This Sporting Life (1963) Movie Reviews

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It's about time you took that rock of weight off your shoulders.

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