Adapted from David Storey's novel of the same title, THIS SPORTING LIFE is a gritty, unblinking look at life in the coal mining region of Northern England as seen through the eyes of Frank Machin (Richard Harris). Produced by Karel Reisz, who made the acclaimed film about working class life SATURDAY NIGHT AND SUNDAY MORNING, and directed by Lindsay Anderson, THIS SPORTING LIFE brings realism to both the brutal violence of the Rugby matches it portrays and to the emotional and physical violence in the character's lives.
When Frank Machin leaves the mine where he has always worked and signs a contract with a professional Rugby team, he hopes to gain social standing and respect. But he finds the hero worship of the drunken fans distasteful. While the owner of the team praises Machin as his star player in the privacy of the locker room, he snubs him in public. Machin's need to love and be loved is compellingly conveyed by Harris with the same startling immediacy as is his raw physical power. He forcefully seduces his landlady, Mrs. Hammond (Rachel Roberts), into a doomed love affair. As things continue to go downhill for Machin, the film captures the mood and feel of this gray industrial area in muted tones, achieving a documentary authenticity. The nighttime shots use a silvery shine, enhancing the feeling of human alienation. Though this parable of working-class life in England is hardly uplifting, the combination of its vibrancy, Harris's sexually charged performance, and Anderson's edgy visual style give it a place not only among the great sports movies, but among the best of all British films.
Cannes Best Actor 1963 Richard Harris Irish actor, THIS SPORTING LIFE/GLADIATOR