This Sporting Life (1963)

Director Lindsay Anderson and leading man Richard Harris put themselves on the map with this riveting study of a rugby-league player tormented by feelings for a grieving widow.

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Film details


“A clenched fist of a movie.”
Neil Sinyard, The Criterion Collection

Like many of his acting peers (such as Richard Burton and Oliver Reed), Richard Harris had a reputation as a carouser. This perhaps explains the conviction of his breakthrough performance as boozy, brawling rugby-league player Frank Machin in this potent adaptation of the 1960 novel by David Storey. A gifted amateur joining the professional game, Machin takes on all comers, but is emotionally devastated by his inability to make a diffident widow (Rachel Roberts) return his affections.

In his first feature, director Lindsay Anderson displays the sensitivity to people and places that marked his earlier documentary shorts, but while his film’s working-class context and literary source align it with the British New Wave movement of the day, its drama of yearning and desire is both visceral and timeless.

This Sporting Life producer Karel Reisz had focused on working-class life before, this time in London, in his exhilarating documentary We Are the Lambeth Boys (1959).

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