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This Sporting Life 1963
Description: In Northern England in the early 1960s, Frank Machin is mean, tough and ambitious enough to become an instant star in the rugby league squad run by local employer Weaver.
Released: 22 May 1963 Director: Lindsay Anderson Writers: David Storey (based on the novel by), David Storey (screenplay) Actors: Richard Harris, Rachel Roberts, Alan Badel, William Hartnell Genres: Drama, Sport
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This Sporting Life Reviews:

If you wish two hours of enjoyment, forget about it. This is one of the most depressing movies ever made. Each grim detail of post fight North of England is piled on in black and white - chimneys, mean terraces, cooling towers, mucky fields, stunted ambition and rising damp. A contemporary view of the early 1960s, you're given all the warts and none of the glitter.But both performance and plot reek with power and there is a compulsive attraction to see a storyline through to a bitter end that you know has no trace of sentiment. The tight coldness of Margaret Hammond (Rachel Roberts), steadfastly refusing to allow herself be satisfied for a second time in her life, grinds vs the macho globe that Frank Machin (Richard Harris) has climbed into.It is one of Harris's two nice roles and came near the begin of his career (the another being Bull McCabe in "The Field" which came near the end) and possibly came closest to the forces that drove him through his life. His skill at and love of rugby gives the sporting dimension of the movie a realism that very several others can match. Much of the passion that he showed on the screen came from experiences on the testing field in a career that was slash short through disease before he should realise his full potential. Anger at that lost occasion is seen better in this movie than in any another he made.There are many another movies in this category when British cinema turned its back on elegance or heroism but none has captured the mood of resentment better than this. More than forty years on, it's still as raw as ever.


It's funny; the more this storyline went on, the more the two lead characters went 180 degrees in the another direction. "Frank Machin" went from a rough-but-quiet and considerate rugby user trying to befriend a single mother to a finished boor and a pig. "Margaret Hammond" was a rude, dour girl with a true attitude trouble regarding life. It takes her a long time to crack a smile and present some twinges of happiness. It's great to see, but it doesn't last.Margaret preferred to wallow in past pain. Except for her kids, which she doesn't dwell on anyway, she didn't wish to have much to do with life. Even in the end, a doctor notes something about her will to live being weak. (You'd think having two great children would be motivation to live.) Anyway, she does slowly began smiling and opening up and being a great person. However, Frank and Margaret are rarely on the same page. When they were, they made a great couple.The movie also went from a tight, action-drama in the first half hour to a straight drama the second half hour to a melodrama over the last hour. It had a tightness in the beginning, an edgy feel to it, whether it was Frank on the testing field or trying to create headway with Margaret and her two tiny kids. Then, it slowly got almost into a soap opera mindset but still kept my interest if only to search out what wound happen to this "couple."Kudso to Richard Harris and Rachel Roberts ("Margaret") for keeping it interesting because it's a fairly long movie and there is a long segment where very tiny happens. Both Harris and Roberts were up for Academy Awards. I thought Harris was the standout here. It's difficult to be a loutish rugby jock on one hand and a tender, caring guy at the same time, but Harris pulled it off. He made Machin a very believable hero with that tough-soft combination. He even looked the part: a rough guy who should (and did in true life) muck it up with the greatest of 'em in a very physical sport. Harris was so nice that one minute you really rooted for him; the next minute you'd think "the hell with this moron." Roberts evoked related emotions. You wanted this bitter and mad girl to be happy, yet sometimes you thought she didn't deserve someone who seemed to care. As a man, I felt Frank's frustration in trying to receive to this lady, who might have a lot to offer (besides sex) if she'd just allow go of the past and her anger. She's also upset about being a "kept woman," something this generation doesn't understand. In Margaret's day, you didn't stay in the same house with a boy unless you were married. The neighbors were talking, and she was shamed. Roberts, I am told, had many demons in her life and didn't have the career of her co-star, but she was a fine, fine actress.Both these boy characters were easy and complex, at the same time. This is why I looked at this movie as a hero study of two people, instead of a depressing melodrama, which some have labeled it. Yeah, it's not "Mary Poppins" but I didn't search it that depressing. I also enjoyed William Hartnell as "Dad" Johnson. I want his role had been bigger. He was a very intriguing guy. The rugby team's owners were portrayed - as many were back then - as nothing but exploitive.Another large part of the reason I basically enjoyed the movie was the perfect direction and photography, and the wonderful DVD transfer given to us by Criterion. This is a pristine print: no spots, actually flaws - just a fabulous picture. If you play the cinematography of movie noir, you'll like this. If you appreciate strong human dramas, you'll search it worth your while.


Frank Machin is an amateur rugby league user in Yorkshire. Ambitious within the sport, Frank pushes himself in front of the local scouts and later is signed to one of the professional clubs and able to keep out for £1000 down to join. As he rises within his own world, Frank has more resources and more occasion but a strained affair with his landlady Margaret and his inability to shake off his primary roots see him frustrated and pained with his journey.Like many others have told in relation to this film, British cinema did have something at one point. The "Free Cinema" movement of the 1950's gave a home to a slightly more realistic form of cinema and, although I do not like all within that "movement" that I have seen, I do think that Anderson's work with that paved the method for this. At times the movie is too keen to revel in the depiction of working class England but this isn't too much and perhaps, if you think of the context of the period (where such views were not the norm) then you can perhaps understand why. However the power of the movie is less in its depiction of the working class work (although this is indeed of value) but more in the convincing exploration of the hero of Frank.Here is a boy who has aspirations but seems unable to reconcile these targets to be "better" with the fact that he is from the working classes and doesn't fit with those above him. Likewise he needs affection, love and intimacy but his outward emotions are much cruder and he is fast to lose his temper and resort to violence as the simplest reaction. It is a well written script and it doesn't push the characters or emotions past where they would naturally go for the sake of the film; you can see this in the conclusion which is meaningful and ultimately quite downbeat. Anderson's direction is suitably gritty and natural for the material, but it was Harris that impressed me most.His performance can be mistaken for being a bit showy and loud and some viewers have made that call. However for me this was his character's boorishness, a quality that he sinks into with ease. However where Harris really does his greatest work is in the moments just before this happens, or instantly afterwards where, without words, we can often see this struggle, this conflict within himself. It is difficult for me to describe here in words so think how hard it gotta be to do as an actor but Harris pulls it off. He is well supported by Roberts and they share some perfect scenes. Smaller roles are also well filled with natural turns from the likes of Hartnell, Lowe, Blakely and others; but the movie is Harris'.Not excellent and perhaps a tiny longer than it can sustain, this is an impressive film. The working class depiction does seem a bit massive at times through modern eyes but in the emotion and development of the characters the movie is difficult to really question. Engaging, well written and well delivered – like others have said, where are the British classics like this now? Four Weddings? Do me a favour...



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