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DVD Review: This Sporting Life (1963) Restored Edition

Sporting_life For some reason, Lindsay Anderson's This Sporting Life tends to be forgotten when we list the great British movies. It shouldn't be - this is as good as it gets.

It's a heavyweight movie, adapted from the David Storey novel and packing a punch every bit as hard as the central character Frank Machin (Richard Harris). Machin is a miner and one of those 'angry young men'  of the era. That anger easily turns to aggression and a show of violence gets him noticed by the local rugby league club's scout Johnson (WIlliam Hartnell) and indeed by the club's board during a trial game.

Knowing his worth, demands a £1,000 signing on fee, justifying the price by becoming an instant hit within the club and on the terraces. While his aggression can provide fame and fortune, it can't find him love. The object of his affection is landlady Margaret (Rachel Roberts). But Frank can't use force to win her over. In fact, it only pushes her further away.

The thought of rugby league in a northern town (Wakefield to be precise) might not be everyone's cup of tea, but this isn't really a film about sport - it's a film about people and more specifically, about relationships. The rugby just shows how Machin lives his life - by force and aggression, inflicting his will on all around him. But Margaret can't be forced in the same way. She's deeply unhappy, struggling to come to terms with the death of her last husband. What she needs is understanding and a sensitive approach - and that's not Frank Machin. When Machin finally realises that, it's too late. He's just the 'great ape on a football field' with a body in decline and no-one to care for him.

Sporting2

Visually, this new copy (taken from the HD print and offered in the correct aspect ratio) really does do the movie justice. The camera work and Anderson's direction are superb. Never has a contact sport been captured with such realism - you can feel every kick and punch off the field and you can almost smell the mud and sweat when Saturday comes. And there's no respite off the field - those dark satanic mills, gloomy pubs and ill-furnished terraced houses contrasting sharply with the high living of the club's directors. Gloomy film? You bet. But it's riveting stuff all the same.

It's hard to think of a reason no to buy this really. A film that everyone with a love of British cinema should own - and if you buy one version, make sure it's this one (I've compared it to the old version and this one really is so much sharper). A great movie with a superb cast and direction and a reminder that life isn't all that bad in 2008, credit crunch or not.

Find out more about the DVD at Amazon.co.uk

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