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From its virtuoso opening shot of a rugby scrum--from the bottom, looking up--to its final emotionally draining moments, THIS SPORTING LIFE is a captivating, visceral film experience. Not only is Lindsay Anderson's (IF..., O LUCKY MAN!) first feature film one of the most poignant
sports-centered movies ever made, it is also a landmark in the history of British cinema, an "Angry Young Man" classic. Adapted by David Storey (who played professional rugby at one time) from his own novel, the film follows the fortunes of Frank Machin (Richard Harris), a loutish former Yorkshire
coal miner who bashes his way to local celebrity as a professional rugby player. 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. Meanwhile, Frank remains the darling of the rugby club's management and supporters, and as long as he performs on the field, his sullen rebelliousness is tolerated. In time, Mrs. Hammond grows tired of Frank's callousness, they fight terribly, and he moves out.
Realizing how much he needs her love, Frank tries to patch things up, but tragedy awaits his attempt at reconciliation. Finally, Frank is left only with the violent world of rugby, in which he is only as good as his last game. THIS SPORTING LIFE is both a biting indictment of class-based
exploitation (the club owners treat the players as mindless beasts) and a tragic story of love that founders on suppressed feelings and unconscious macho insensitivity. Harris gives an extraordinary, gut-wrenching performance reminiscent of young Marlon Brando, and Roberts brings considerable
complexity to her exceptional portrayal of a woman whose emotional life is as dormant as Frank's is frustrated. The game action is hard-hitting and well captured, and cinematographer Denys Coop's gritty, detailed black and white is in the best tradition of British kitchen-sink realism.