This Sporting Life (1963) – Lindsay Anderson

Richard Harris headlines the next film in the What Else to Watch list featured in DK Canada’s The Movie Book, following the recommendation of Saturday Night and Sunday Morning.

Harris stars as Frank Machin, a miner who eventually finds success on the rugby field, something he’s wanted for a long time. He lodges in the home of the widow Margaret Hammond (Rachel Roberts) and her children, and of all the things he wants, he wants Margaret most of all.

She is the only thing that makes him feel alive.

Even after he negotiates a stellar contract for The City Rugby Team, he thinks he’s going to be set, but even as he seems to get everything he wants, his aggression and violent tendencies begin to surface.

In fact it culminates in an assault and rape of Hammond, which then proceeds into a tumultuous relationship.  This scene was really tough to get through, and it makes one very uncomfortable.

But it does show the lengths Machin will go to find something he thinks will make him happy.

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The film itself is solidly made, and Harris turns in a powerful performance in this film, one that launched him to stardom. The book is based on David Storey’s novel of the same name, who also penned the script for this dark film.

Harris is nothing short of captivating in the pursuit of what he wants, but is it all for naught? Is his own persona, his own outlook on life, at the root of his unhappiness?

We learn of Hammond’s husband, and the possible circumstances around his death, or is that just gossip? Gossip also begins to grown around Frank and Margaret as it becomes clear to those living on their tiny little street, that there is a relationship, after a fashion, going on.

It’s also a delight to see William Hartnell, the very first Doctor as the character of ‘Dad’ Johnson.

As admitted, some of this film is a tough watch, but Harris is completely captivating in his performance, something for which he received an Oscar nomination. And that ending!

In fact of the trio of films I’ve watched so far that fall into the Angry White English Man stories, this one is the one that I have enjoyed most. And that is saying something, because when I first came across it I wasn’t sure this was one I wanted to settle in for. Now, however, I quite like the fact that I settled in for this one, because it continued to expand my knowledge of film, and DK Books’ The Movie Book continues to ably guides me through classic cinema.

Pick one up today and find something exceptional to watch.

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