“This Sporting Life.” (1963). A true black and white British classic, a scorching sport- centered drama, helmed by prolific director Lindsay Anderson (O! LUCKY MAN). It’s based on a novel by the respected David Storey, (UNIVERSAL SOLDIER) who also did the screenplay. In Northern England in the early 1960s, the rough, sullen young Frank Machin, a coal miner, finds that he is mean, tough and ambitious enough to become an overnight star in the rugby league team run by local employer Weaver. Machin lodges with Mrs. Margaret Hammond, whose husband was killed in an accident at Weaver's, but his impulsive and angry nature stops him from being able to reach her as he would like: his efforts all prove self-defeating. He becomes increasingly frustrated with his situation, and this is not helped by the more straightforward enticements Mrs. Weaver offers. It’s a small tale that runs a longish 134 minutes, but never wastes a minute. The film is always evocative; one of the most outstanding of the so-called “kitchen sink” realist dramas, films featuring working class characters and concerns that were typical of the period. The picture gives us an outstanding cast. A young Richard Harris, (THE FIELD), in one of his first roles, gives us a blistering Frank Machin, whose anger is matched outburst by outburst, by Rachel Roberts (SHERLOCK HOLMES) as Mrs. Hammond. Alan Badel (NIJINSKY) is Gerald Weaver; Colin Blakely (THE PRIVATE LIFE OF SHERLOCK HOLMES) is Machin’s only friend on the team, Maurice Braithwaite. Arthur Lowe (DAD’S ARMY) is Charles Slomer, industrialist; George Sewell (GET CARTER) is Jeff, a sports figure. Leonard Rossiter (BILLY LIAR) is Phillips, sports writer. The renowned Glenda Jackson (ELIZABETH R) made her debut, as did Edward Fox (THE DAY OF THE JACKAL). SPORTING LIFE was director Anderson’s first feature film following years of documentary work; its direction is focused as a flame, particularly the sports scenes. The movie also gives us the atmosphere of the drab Bolton, Yorkshire at the time. Life for most is harsh and bleak; downtrodden people live in the shadow of industry and corruption that often damages their health and crushes their hopes. The film is always glum, and still angry after all these years, full of raging performances that paint a hard to forget picture.
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