Prolific British filmmaker Lindsay Anderson weaves this small, evocative tale of young life at the crossroads in early 1960s Northern England. A rough, sullen young man (Richard Harris) working in the local coal mines begi... more »ns to make a name for himself as a star rugby player, but even as he begins to fall in love he cannot escape the harsh realities of the bleak life around him. The rugby sequences in the film are striking, but no more so than the depiction of downtrodden people living in the shadow of industry and corruption that too often crushes their spirit. Harris in one of his first roles, is remarkably effective as an unlikable but sympathetic figure trying against hope to savor the small joys life has to offer, and the film also features the debut of renowned actress Glenda Jackson. One of a series of working-class, character-driven British imports, This Sporting Life is one of the best on the field. --Robert Lane« less
"This masterpiece by Lindsay Anderson should be on any film aficionado's must-see list. It is an uncompromising study of alienation, social class, maturity, and loneliness. Richard Harris gives a performance of astonishing realism: it seems unlikely he could ever surpass it. The character moves from physicalized anger to tenderness often within a moment. Harris builds to a completely believable dramatic eruption by the climax. He is matched all along the way by Rachel Roberts, a great actress in an unforgettable role: a woman unwilling to let go of the past and the pain it contains.Anderson populates the film with several other memorable characters--an older man who seems to be in love with the hero, the grasping team-owner's wife who wishes to possess him.The film contains scenes of nearly unbearable intensity and anguish (Frank's drunken ballad sung in a bar, or Margaret's pleading to be left alone). Also of note is the film's unusual structure, functioning on two levels at once: in "real time" and in Frank's memory, which he may be coloring by his own reactions (something for the viewer to contemplate).The black and white cinematography is often beautiful as it poeticizes Frank's plight (for example, near the end of the film, he ends up wandering along moonlit railway tracks in a world of steely, silvery loneliness. Also of note, the wonderfully nightmarish music by Roberto Gerhard, an avant-garde composer who differed with the director on the scoring the film.See the film on DVD for maximum quality. Although the disc contains no special features, it is good to know this great picture has been preserved in the new medium."
Brawls and Rugby Balls: This Tough-Minded British Drama Pac
K. Harris | Las Vegas, NV | 11/16/2007
(4 out of 5 stars)
"I am pleased to see that Criterion has recently introduced the work of British director Lindsay Anderson to its oeuvre of classic and/or challenging films. Anderson may not have great name recognition to modern audiences (although he made films as late as 1993), but his movies were pivotal in helping to establish a more realistic and topical British film industry of the sixties. Many of Anderson's films featured an "angry young man" antihero as their protagonist, and this lent a certain toughness to his work that became his early trademark. With the inclusion of "If..." and now "This Sporting Life" in the Criterion collection, I hope younger film enthusiasts will check into Anderson's legacy!
Highlighted by a gritty realism that captures both the world of rugby and working class England, "This Sporting Life" is primarily a romance--albeit an unlikely one. Richard Harris is full of bravado and arrogance as a young rugby player who sees the sport as an opportunity to raise his income, if not exactly his station. Embraced and exploited by the ball club, he soon becomes seduced by success. But really, he just wants to feel acceptance--particularly from the widow who rents him a room. Rachel Roberts is a vital blend of strength and vulnerability in this role. This is perhaps her finest screen performance. As her resistance gives way to moments of joy and back again--every feeling is telegraphed by her face. This slow-burning romance inevitably erupts in a fury and passion rarely seen in film--and this remarkable duo are given the opportunity to explode with emotional fireworks.
The social aspects and commentary that mark Anderson's film career are all present in "This Sporting Life." However, by focusing on the intimacy of the central protagonists, the film comes across more as a character study than message movie. The screenplay is tight and honest, and the film really challenges the viewer to delve into the darkest parts of Harris' emotional state. Not a particularly upbeat film, "This Sporting Life" might not be for everyone. But for those that enjoy remarkable performances and serious drama, it's hard not to appreciate the film's adult tone.
Check out Anderson's work and specifically "This Sporting Life." Both Harris and Roberts garnered Oscar nominations for their roles, and it is easy to see why! Powerful and even brutal, this "Life" proves that relationships can be as tough as a contact sport! KGHarris, 11/07."
Harris' Finest Performance
Robert Morris | Dallas, Texas | 10/08/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"While viewing this film again recently, I was curious to see if it has lost any of its edge since I first saw it almost 40 years ago. It hasn't. In fact, in light of almost daily revelations of inappropriate (if not illegal) conduct by professional and even by so-called amateur athletes, it has perhaps even more relevance today. In my opinion, Richard Harris (Frank Machin) delivers his finest performance as a coal miner in Northern England (Yorkshire) who gains fame and fortune as a professional rugby player. I am reminded of Scorcese and De Niro's presentation of Jake La Motta in Raging Bull. (Both athletes fail in their personal relationships for precisely the same reasons they succeed in competition.) Rachel Roberts plays Mrs. Hammond, the only person Machin sincerely cares about, other than himself. Most of the time, she endures his use and abuse of her but in one memorable scene, she confronts him as the arrogant bully he is. He appreciates her only after....David Storey wrote the screenplay based on his novel (same title) and, under Lindsay Anderson's crisp and sure direction, each member of the cast delivers a superb performance, including Glenda Jackson in what I think is her debut role. The colorful, often violent action on various playing fields is effectively portrayed, in stunning contrast with the drab lives of those who cheer on the teams. Credit Denys Coop for the cinematography. In essence, this film explores the nature and extent of one man's raw ambition and almost animalistic determination as his natural talents enable him to seize opportunities available to few others. Comparisons of This Sporting Life with Raging Bull are not a stretch. (Presumably De Niro saw this film prior to portraying La Motta. Did Harris see Brando in On the Waterfront before portraying Machin?) This is a dark film in terms of its tone and setting; also in terms of what it reveals about the values of young men such as Machin whose fame and fortune can be gone so quickly, and often unexpectedly. Then what? Within its own self-imposed limits, this is a "classic" film."
Gritty Working-Class Drama
Robert Morris | 01/10/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Richard Harris is superb (and so young!) as a driven but unsophisticated rugby player struggling to make something of himself. He becomes involved with his grieving landlady, a widow, and persists in trying to get her to feel something for him. Everything is a struggle for the characters in this film, which is realistic but evokes time creatively via flashbacks and cuts to create a stong emotional impact. Lots of mud and broken teeth in the very gritty rugby scenes."
Robert Morris | 04/20/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Richard Harris uses all his knowledge and love of rugby football in his award nominated role. If the footballing parts of this movie are not for the faint hearted, then neither is the harsh look at life in north of England. This is no romantic comedy but the best film of it's genre. A classic of 1960's British movies!"