Plot: What’s it about?
Frank Machin (Richard Harris) used to be a miner, who would watch with disdain as the rugby players were treated with respect and adoration. He views the hero worship a little differently when he decides to try out for the local team however, as he makes the squad and turns out to be quite skilled. He quickly becomes not just a skilled player, but the star of his team, with ruthless aggression on the field. His new lifestyle yields not only more income, but also the praise of the team’s fans, which he laps up with great vigor, despite his distaste for the displays when he was on the other side. But is his new life of prosperity all that it seems, or is there a darker underside he will soon discover?
The director of this film is Lindsay Anderson, whose work previous to This Sporting Life was in the documentary field. His past work is evident here in his first feature film, as Anderson crafts a realistic, believable experience. Anderson’s direction is simply superb, even when he veers from the stark realism, with skillful symbolism and the like. The cast is excellent also, especially lead Richard Harris who is a powerhouse here. Harris is great here, but he shares the screen with two other performers on their game in Rachel Roberts and William Hartnell. The interaction between Harris and Hartnell is memorable, as is Harris’ romance with Roberts, top shelf work all around. Criterion’s two disc edition shows much respect for the movie, with a fantastic transfer and insightful extras. So if you’re at all interested, This Sporting Life earns a high recommendation.
Video: How does it look?
This Sporting Life is presented in 1.66:1 anamorphic widescreen. Even by Criterion’s high standards, this is one impressive presentation. The restored print looks excellent, with strong visible detail and no serious concerns. I have been spoiled by high definition in recent years, but this is impressive detail, one of the best DVD transfers I’ve seen of late. The age of the material never really becomes an issue, with spot on contrast and no softness to contend with. Simply put, this is another elite level transfer from Criterion.
Audio: How does it sound?
Some restoration work was also done on the audio and while I am unsure how much, I do know that this track sounds very good. The original mono track was used for this disc and while mono is limited in range, this material doesn’t need much in terms of audio power or impact. The music sounds clear and free from distortion, which is impressive for a movie of this age (1963). No traces of problems with dialogue either, as the vocals sound natural and very crisp at all times.
Supplements: What are the extras?
The audio commentary with author David Storey and Anderson expert Paul Ryan is great, one of the best commentaries I’ve heard in a while. Storey provides first person perspective, as he wrote the source material and was involved in the production, while Ryan provides well researched, insightful information from an uninvolved, but educated stance. The two combine to offer a lot of terrific information here, so do not miss this session. Anderson’s final film Is This All There Is? is also included and while not a great work, fans of the directors will appreciate its inclusion. A BBC short documentary on Anderson is also included, as is Anderson’s short documentaries Meet the Pioneers and Wakefield Express, an interview with producer Lois Sutcliffe Smith, and the film’s theatrical trailer.