This Sporting Life

West Yorkshire coal miner Frank Machin (Richard Harris) is recruited by the manager of a rugby team; at the same time, he’s trying to impress his widowed landlady (Rachel Roberts)… Lindsay Anderson’s feature film debut was based on the experiences of an actual rugby player and has become a now-classic examination of a young man dealing with aggression. Starkly photographed, rugby turns into a symbol of life’s many struggles, especially if you’re working-class. Harris is tremendously good in his breakthrough performance, trying to woo a woman who finds his boorish behavior a turn-off; Roberts is also excellent as the widow who deserves better. A long but often gruesomely intense British New Wave drama.

1963-Britain. 134 min. B/W. Produced by Karel Reisz. Directed by Lindsay Anderson. Screenplay, Novel: David Storey. Cast: Richard Harris (Frank Machin), Rachel Roberts (Margaret Hammond), Alan Badel (Gerald Weaver), William Hartnell, Colin Blakely, Arthur Lowe.

Trivia: Glenda Jackson and Edward Fox can be seen in bit parts, the former’s first film performance. Albert Finney was allegedly considered for the lead.

BAFTA: Best Actress (Roberts). Cannes: Best Actor (Harris).

Last word: “The production of this film was really a miracle. Although I had suggested it originally as a subject to Tony Richardson, who wanted me to direct a film for Woodfall, it was eventually bought by Rank Organization to be made by Julian Wintle’s Independent Artists. I think their idea was that the novel could make another ‘Saturday Night and Sunday Morning’; and this is why it was offered to Karel Reisz. But Karel did not want to make another ‘Saturday Night and Sunday Morning’, and he was anxious to get experience on the production side. So he offered to produce the film if I were given it to direct. Much to my surprise Julian Wintle agreed, and so we made the picture under extremely good conditions, and without having to go through the tortuous ordeal of setting it up.” (Anderson, Film Quarterly)

 

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