This Sporting Life

Like Karel Reisz and Tony Richardson, Lindsay Anderson was another key figure in the ‘Free Cinema’ movement who combined work as a critic and theatre director with filmmaking. Based on David Storey’s semi-autobiographical novel, Anderson’s first feature This Sporting Life is a powerful tragedy about a violent, inarticulate rugby player and his relationship with an older woman. In a career-defining performance, Richard Harris plays Frank Mackin, a Yorkshire coal miner whose aggressive play on the rugby field leads to a brief professional career. Although pursued by a number of women, Frank starves for the love of his landlady, Mrs. Hammond (Rachel Roberts), a bitter, passionless widow who eventually has a physical relationship with Frank but refuses to give herself to him emotionally.
In one sense, Mackin is a rough version of the ‘angry young man’ and belongs to a group of subversive heroes of the time that also include Joe Lampton in A Room at the Top and Arthur Seaton in Saturday Night and Sunday Morning. Here the class conflict is worked out through the game of professional rugby, which is controlled and corrupted by ruthless commercial interests. But This Sporting Life is no simplistic political tract. Anderson turns the film into a much more personal and intriguing affair by concentrating on the physical and psychological tensions that envelop his hero and the strange, unresolved relationship between Frank and Mrs. Hammond. The visceral power of the sports scenes rival those in Raging Bull and go way beyond the story’s basic requirements to hint at much deeper levels of anxiety. Similarly, there is clearly more to the failure of the central relationship than the characters’ inarticulateness and incompatibility.
(1963. Black and white. 134 mins.)

Book Tickets