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This Sporting Life (The Criterion Collection)
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One of the finest British films ever made, this benchmark of kitchen-sink realism follows the self-defeating professional and romantic pursuits of a miner turned rugby player eking out an existence in drab Yorkshire. With an astonishing, raging performance by a young Richard Harris, an equally blistering turn by fellow Oscar nominee Rachel Roberts as the widow with whom he lodges, and electrifying direction by Lindsay Anderson, in his feature-film debut following years of documentary work, This Sporting Life remains a dramatic powerhouse.SPECIAL EDITION DOUBLE-DISC SET FEATURES: New, restored high-definition digital transfer Audio commentary featuring Paul Ryan, editor of Never Apologise: The Collected Writings of Lindsay Anderson, and David Storey, screenwriter and author of This Sporting Life Theatrical trailer Lindsay Anderson: Lucky Man? (2004, 30 min), a BBC Scotland documentary featuring interviews with many of the director s close friends and collaborators New video interview with Lois Sutcliffe Smith, Anderson s close friend and president of the Lindsay Anderson Memorial Foundation Meet the Pioneers (1948), Lindsay Anderson s first documentary short Wakefield Express (1952), Anderson s short-film contribution to England s Free Cinema series, shot in the same town that served as the location for This Sporting Life Is That All There Is? (1992, 50 min), Anderson s autobiographical, final film PLUS: A booklet featuring a new essay by film scholar Neil Sinyard and writings by Anderson, including his groundbreaking article, Stand Up! Stand Up!
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Frank's ambitions also include Mrs. Hammond, a widow in whose house he rents a room. He husband was killed in an industrial accident at Weaver's factory and she has been left with a young daughter. She is bitter about her husband's death and has almost given up on life. Frank's attentions are not at all welcome to her and one senses that part of his motivation in taking on rugby is to win her over by offering a better life.Frank, however has many problems of his own making, largely due to his hot temper and impulsive nature. When things seem to be going right, he will always do something to mess it up. It's not that he has some suicidal wish but his fiery nature mixed with an inability to understand his situation and self constantly get him into trouble, such as the scene when he takes Mrs. hammond out to a fancy dinner and finds himself totally out of his element.
The story is told in flashbacks, gradually returning to the present. The black and white photography works well with the gritty realism of the time and place but is also very effective in an idyllic trip to the country with Frank, Mrs. Hammond and her daughter. Harris is excellent, showing tenderness as well as temper (we all know how he could do temper). Rachel Roberts is fine in the difficult role of Mrs. Hammond, a woman who is not altogether sympathetic. Lindsay Anderson's direction is very good, though many think the film a bit long at over two hours. The film could have used some editing and still made its point, but this is a small quibble compared to the power of the piece.
Most of these kitchen sink films were about society and the British class system as much as they ever were about their characters, and this one differs in that it's a character study of Frank and finds problems more within him than in the society at large. He's an angry young man but the anger is simply within his nature and directed not at society but at whoever is at hand. This is somewhat of a difficult film in the sense that the characters are not very sympathetic and Frank is certainly no hero, but it is worthwhile nonetheless.
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 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.
Top international reviews
In the central role as Frank Machin, rugby player and an angry brute of a man, we have Richard Harris in full Brando mode (even the hairstyle and a ‘Stellaaa!’ moment at the end - ‘Margaret’ this time) and he puts in a full blooded performance, but pouting and staring meaningfully isn’t enough to convince as at times it looks simply like empty posing and makes him look gormless. Stanley Baker was first choice for the role and I would have loved to have seen what he made of this.
The other main character (also angry!) is played by Rachel Roberts and she steals the film. She is superb, with none of the ‘brooding’ nonsense that mars Harris’s performance.
The cinematography by the way is faultless and shown beautifully on the Blu-ray