9 June 2014

Blu-Ray Review - This Sporting Life (1963)


Genre:
Drama, Sports
Distributor:
Network Distributing
Rating: 12
Blu-Ray Release Date:
9th June 2014 (UK)
Running Time:
134 Minutes
Director:
Lindsay Anderson
Cast:
Richard Harris, Rachel Roberts, Alan Badel
Buy:This Sporting Life [1963] [Blu-Ray]

This Sporting Life was the feature film directorial debut from Lindsay Anderson who would later become well known for If…. and O Lucky Man! It also stars Richard Harris in his first starring role, which he was nominated for an Oscar for, and won best actor at the 1963 Cannes film festival.

Richard Harris plays Frank Machin who is a miner in the Yorkshire town Wakefield and is a bitter brute of a man. One night he beats up the captain of the local rugby team and the same night is recruited to have a trial at the same team. He impresses and soon becomes one of the star players partly due his aggressive playing.

Machin, however, lives with the widowed Mrs. Margaret Hammond (Rachel Roberts) who has 2 children. Mrs. Hammond lost her husband who worked for the owner Gerald Weaver’s engineering firm and rugby team, but received no compensation. Frank and Mrs. Hammond eventually get intimate but naturally it ends up badly.

The film is based on the novel of the same name by David Storey who was part of the British literary movement “Angry young men”; in some ways it was the British equivalent to the Beat movement in the US. The 60s came and many of the novels were translated into what would become known as the British New Wave or the more frequently named Kitchen Sink drama films of the time.

The most striking aspect of the film is that it’s told in flashbacks and jumps around in time. This gives the film a distinctly more modern feel than many others of its ilk. It was edited by Peter Taylor who best known for this work with David Lean but this is much more new wave (in the French way) edited film with daring cuts that would not be far off from the work of Godard.

Richard Harris and Rachel Roberts give outstanding performances, so much so that they were both recognised by the Academy Awards with nominations. Richard Harris was clearly aware of Marlon Brando’s work and a comparison can certainly be made to some of his work, they are similarly animalistic but at same time share the same vulnerably quality.

The film remains one of the most modern and striking of any of the kitchen sink dramas -or British films for that matter- of the 1960s. The film was a bomb in the UK with Rank films refusing to ever make any kitchen sink dramas again because they called it “squalid”. It does suffer from being slightly too long but the performances and editing make up for its faults. It’s a shame that Network’s disc is pretty bare boned except for the excellent blu-ray transfer.

★★★★

Ian Schultz


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