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THIS SPORTING LIFE

Director: LINDSAY ANDERSON

U.K. • 1963 • BLACK AND WHITE • DIGITAL • 134 MIN


LINDSAY ANDERSON’S 1963 BRITISH CLASSIC IS RE-RELEASED IN A NEWLY RESTORED DIGITAL VERSION. This is British cinema’s Raging Bull, a clenched fist of a movie played out in a realm of perpetual pain and featuring a working-class hero whose inner turmoil can only find expression through violence.

Frank Machin (Richard Harris) is a miner in a Northern town who, out of envy and ambition, has a trial with the local Rugby League club and rapidly becomes their star player. The rugby field is the ideal arena for Machin’s energy and aggression, but the core of the film becomes his love affair with a widowed landlady (Rachel Roberts), where his physically overbearing and often brutal attempts to tear open her shell of coldness and withdrawal will have fatal consequences. ‘A bleak northern affair of inarticulate emotions, frustrated or deformed by Puritanism and inhibition,’ was director Lindsay Anderson’s description of the relationship; the cameraman Walter Lassally thought their scenes had an emotional power unequalled in any British film.

In taking the angry young man hero to such extremes of torment and filming his predicament in a manner that analysed his masculinity within a subjective and adventurous flashback structure, Anderson, in his debut feature, was venturing into new territory. Unfortunately, by the time of the film’s release, northern dourness was about to be displaced by the escapades of James Bond, the frolics of Tom Jones, and the ebullience of The Beatles, and This Sporting Life failed to find an audience. Viewed today, however, it can be seen as not only the culmination of the British New Wave but arguably its finest achievement, thematically bleak, artistically exhilarating. — Neil Sinyard.

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